The school system’s fiscal outlook for next year is looking slightly better than initially thought, though not exactly rosy.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Loudoun County School Board got an update on the financial picture for fiscal year 2019, which begins in July 2018.
In August, the school system had estimated there would be a $100.5 million gap between the schools’ expenses and revenue next year. But E. Leigh Burden, assistant superintendent of Support Services, told the board this week that she’s expecting more money from the state and from the county than previously thought.
Loudoun County Public Schools could get $14 million more in state revenue over the current fiscal year. That’s $8.3 million more than initially thought, in large part because the Local Composite Index is expected to decrease—that means school systems in higher income areas, like Loudoun, get a larger share of state funds. The index is the formula that the Virginia Department of Education uses to determine how much funding to give to each of the state’s 134 school divisions. It’s an ability-to-pay system, based on each locality’s daily average attendance and overall student enrollment, real estate values and retail sales tax.
Loudoun’s public schools may also get a hefty increase in county dollars. Based on the preliminary fiscal guidance of the Board of Supervisors—which holds the county’s purse strings—the county administrator has been asked to prepare his budget based on the equalized tax rate of $1.11 per $100 of assessed value and a second option at 1 cent above the equalized rate or $1.12 per $100 of assessed value. The equalized rate could boost schools’ funding by $20.6 million, and the 1 cent above that rate could mean $26 million more for schools.
“The current tax rate is essentially off the table at this point, and that is a departure from what we normally see,” Burden said, adding, “We’re cautiously optimistic.”
The school system is projecting it will need $106.2 million more next fiscal year to keep pace with enrollment growth, staff new school buildings and expand full-day kindergarten. Its operating budget for the current fiscal year is $1.24 billion.
The new revenue information means the gap between revenue and those expected expenses is smaller than expected, but still sizable—between $66.2 million and $71.6 million.
As administrators for the various school departments fine-tune their budgets for next year, the expenditure side of the equation will likely go down, Burden said. Meanwhile, the county’s revenue outlook typically gets better from December to February.
“And we meet somewhere in the middle,” she said.
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said the numbers seem to be moving in the right direction but added, “I guess we’re still holding our breath.”
Superintendent Eric Williams is scheduled to present his proposed budget for fiscal year 2019 in early January.