The $1.202 billion budget Loudoun’s School Board adopted tonight includes money to deliver the county to a goal it’s been chasing after for almost a decade: universal full-day kindergarten.
The board voted 7-2 for a final fiscal year 2019 spending plan that shaves just $138,467 from the operating budget drafted by Superintendent Eric Williams. That’s an 8 percent increase over the current year’s operating budget. But, as School Board member Joy Maloney (Broad Run) said, the adopted budget, if funded by the county Board of Supervisors, delivers a lot of major milestones.
“This budget really moves us forward in this county,” she said. “If it is supported by the Board of Supervisors, we will have universal full-day kindergarten next year, we’ll have mental health teams in our middle schools, not just in our high schools. And we’re staffing the new Academies of Loudoun.”
Board members made several small line-item adjustments to Williams’ proposed budget. The first, made by Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) tacked on an additional $204,000 to ensure every kindergartener receives a full school day. The superintendent’s proposal earmarked $2 million to expand full-day kindergarten from about 80 percent of the county to 93 percent. It would have left four elementary schools— Creighton’s Corner, Hillside, Lucketts, and Mill Run—without it for at least another year because they do not have the classroom space.
Hornberger’s plan would send about 90 students at those four schools to neighboring schools that have space. “Through the use of alternative classrooms at nearby schools for roughly 90 students, all will gain full-day kindergarten,” he said. “This would have us finally achieve universal full-day kindergarten county wide.”
Board members also agreed to increase the stipend for employees who teach co-curricular activities by 3 percent, for a cost of $163,500. Hornberger, who made that motion, pointed out that the stipend was increased by just 3 percent in the last eight years.
At the request of Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles), the majority of board members also agreed to add a technology assistant at the three largest elementary schools: Madison’s Trust, Legacy and Creighton’s Corner. “As we move into more technology it’s getting more challenging to keep up with the devices in the schools, especially the large schools,” he said.
Another addition was to increase by $2 the per-pupil student allotments for instruction materials and supplies. Even at that increase, those allotments are still lower than what they were in 2010, Hornberger noted. “It is the only budgeted source of school-based discretionary funding for supplies needed for instruction of students,” he said.
The biggest decrease in the spending plan’s bottom line came from a decision to have $525,000 in safety equipment and other infrastructure projects paid for by fiscal year 2018 fund balance. Those include camera parity for the middle schools, card readers and storage lockers, and fire door holders that would deter people from propping open doors and increasing safety hazards.
That move, suggested by Hornberger, would not only decrease the operating budget but also put the projects in line to be completed faster, with money that is expected to be left over from the current fiscal year.
“All are arguably safety and security related,” he said, “so I think they should be done sooner rather than later.”
During their closing comments, several board members commended Williams for drafting a budget that goes a long way in offering supports to students facing depression, stress and other mental health concerns. The School Board left intact $3.2 million that Williams recommended to expand mental health services for middle school students through support teams made up of school counselors (17 additional would be hired), social workers (seven additional) and psychologists (seven additional). Last year, the board created and staffed mental health teams at each of the high schools, when Loudoun saw an increase in suicides among teens.
“The reality is public education has become the safety net for children in many ways,” Hornberger said. “I think until those other safety nets are in place, if we don’t support them who’s going to? And I think they directly support our students’ ability to learn.”
Morse said that it’s difficult for children to access mental health support outside of school. “What we’re seeing is if there’s no bridge between the children and mental health services, they are not going to use them. They are going to suffer, and their community is going to suffer,” he said. “A lot of people are focused on fiscal security, but the biggest risk to our students is mental security—hands down. From all the principals that I spoke with, that was their number one concern.”
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) were the only board members who opposed the final budget. DeKenipp said he disagreed with how rapidly the school system’s budget has grown and how much county tax dollars goes to fund public schools.
Turgeon said she disagreed with several of the additions, including increasing staffing standards for technology assistants that are generally agreed upon outside of the budget discussion. “Some of these things should have gone through committee or had a more vibrant discussion before the budget process,” she said. And later she thanked staff members for their work and added, “Now, we’ll see what happens when it goes to the Board of Supervisors.”
The spending plan calls for $20.9 million more in state funding next year and $64.6 million more in local funds. The School Board will formally present their funding request to the Board of Supervisors later this month.
Editor’s note: The original article stated that the budget included the addition of more nurse assistants at some middle schools, but that motion made by Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) failed for lack of votes. Loudoun Now regrets the error.