The Board of Supervisors has heard three public input sessions on the budget, and one message was clear at all three: Fully fund the requested school budget.
Teachers, staff, and parents spoke at all three public hearings, dominating two. Most wore matching shirts, demanding the board support the School Board’s $1 billion budget request. County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has said that will require raising the real estate tax rate.
Bring on the tax raise, said speakers, if that’s what it takes to fully fund the school budget request. Jenna Nemes, president of the Hamilton Elementary School PTA, said her property tax rate has climbed steadily.
“Despite that, I’m here to ask you to increase the tax rate to $1.17 to fully fund the school budget,” Nemes said.
The current real estate tax rate is $1.135 per $100 of assessed value. Hemstreet said that rate would have to rise to $1.17 to fully fund the school budget request.
Other parents, teachers, and staff agreed with Nemes. Michelle Copeland is the mother of a boy about to enter middle school.
“I am willing to pay whatever it takes to ensure that his middle school is staffed with a dean to keep him safe,” Copeland said.
“My students are children, not statistics,” said teacher Julie Ruhlen. “They are not faceless entities; they are living, breathing humans.” She asked the board to adopt a tax rate that “does the least harm to our schools.”
Other teachers turned up to tell the board they were being forced to leave by the pay scale and cost of living in Loudoun. Celeste Liscouski said she has “had enough.”
“It makes me sad to say it, but I will be leaving at the end of the school year, because I no longer want the job where I am underpaid and under appreciated,” Liscouski said.
But not everyone wants a tax increase. A handful of Loudouners turned out to ask the board keep taxes down. Mark Sell, former chairman of the Loudoun County Republican Committee, said that even with equalized tax rates, his property value and tax bill go up.
“I’m sure you get a lot of people that want you to raise it for a lot of things, but some of us aren’t made of money,” Sell said.
“Anything, it seems to me, beyond $1.14 would be a big impact on these people,” Will Estrada said. “These are real people, real families.”
A delegation of speakers also came from the Service Employees International Union to ask the board to protect county staff, including increasing staffing and ending the pay-for-performance system.
“We love what we do,” Patty Nelson said. “We’re not here to get rich, but we do need to be able to take care of our families, and we need the resources to do our jobs.”
Lillian Ferrell said at 63 years old, she is a lifetime Loudoun resident, but cannot afford a house on a county salary, and still rents. Upon retirement, she said, she will have to leave the county.
“Our wages have not kept up with the cost of living, and have not kept up with neighboring jurisdictions,” Ferrell said.
The board will balance those requests as it hashes out the fiscal year 2017 budget. A final vote is scheduled for April 5.