The Loudoun County School Board offered a clearer picture of what may be on the chopping block for next fiscal year’s budget during a meeting Thursday.
The board is faced with trimming its $1.202 billion spending plan to fill a $14.9 million funding gap, the difference between its request and funds county Board of Supervisors designated for fiscal year 2019.
Superintendent Eric Williams last week offered a list of suggested cuts, including reducing the number of newly created positions by 30, giving teachers smaller raises than initially planned, and nixing plans to increase the per-pupil allotment for instructional materials by $2.
His hope was that any reductions would not affect efforts to increase mental health services for students, improvements in school security, class sizes or the expansion of full-day kindergarten offerings to every Loudoun family. But board members said during Thursday’s work session that the latter two might have to be on the table.
School Board member Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) asked how individual schools would be impacted if the school system extends a full-day program to 85 percent of kindergartens instead of 100 percent, which the board had hoped to do. Williams said it would equate to 12 fewer full-day classes, so six fewer kindergarten teachers, and save roughly $1.4 million. It would mean also mean that at least some kindergartners at eight elementary schools—Cedar Lane, Dominion Trail, Lucketts, Creighton’s Corner, Hillside, Legacy, Mill Run and Moorefield Station—would have just a half-day program.
The School Board’s initial goal, adopted as part of its Vision 20/20 Strategic Plan, was to get to 100 percent full-day kindergarten by 2021. But that goal seemed within striking distance for this next school year, so the board included $2.2 million in the budget it adopted in February to expand it to a universal program. That was, of course, dependent on full funding.
“What are parents expecting at this point?” Hornberger asked W. Michael Martin, director of elementary education, Thursday.
“We made sure schools were clear that everything is budget contingent,” Martin said, and added with a smile, “But if the question is what are they expecting, I believe they are expecting 100 percent full-day kindergarten.”
He stressed again that principals were told that the county may have full-day kindergarten by this fall, if the funding comes through.
School Board member Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said he plans to make a motion at Tuesday’s meeting—when the board will adopt a reconciled budget—to trim back the full-day kindergarten plan to 85 percent. He asked Williams why one proposal he’s seen showed a savings of $1.4 million and another showed more than $3 million.
“If you want to create more savings, it would be through having larger average class sizes in full-day kindergarten and half-day kindergarten,” Williams said.
A few board members said they didn’t like any plan that increased class sizes, but a few others asked Williams to let them know, ahead of the final budget adoption Tuesday, how much would be saved by bumping up the average by one or two students. Right now, the average class size for full-day classes is 21 students, and 19.5 students for half-day classes; each kindergarten class is staffed with a teacher and teacher’s assistant.
“I want to emphasize this is the average,” Williams said. “So if you want to increase the average by one or two students, there will be kindergarten classes with 24 and 25 students.”
DeKenipp said slowing down the full-day kindergarten plan is the best option to save a few million dollars. He cautioned of Loudoun going the way of Prince William County Public Schools, which he said rushed into universal full-day kindergarten and then has had a difficult time covering the program’s ongoing costs.
“I would hate to roll it out for a year and then pull it back. That’s the risk that we’re taking here,” DeKenipp said.
The School Board is also hopeful for additional state funding, about $2 million more than the governor’s budget would have provided. The state legislature is still working to adopt a budget.