Supervisors Wonder if Schools’ Share of Budget Growth Should Be Cut

As supervisors approach what is expected to be the most difficult county budget of their term so far, some on the county finance committee are questioning a boon to the school system that has been assumed for years.

For decades, the county has split new revenue growth 34-66—one third for the county government, and two-thirds for the schools. But as the county struggles to find money to catch up on long-neglected salaries and staffing, some supervisors are wondering if that long-standing but unofficial practice still makes sense.

While the school system continues to add thousands of students each year, enrollment growth is slowing.

“Given the current needs today, the percentage should actually by a little higher for the county, and a little less for the schools right, and that could change in the future as things change again,” said Supervisor Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn). “…Sometimes things need to be broken, and I’m not sure that this is a good practice other than for budgeting convenience. It’s definitely not based on needs.”

County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) agreed that “to say that this is written in stone no matter what is happening in the schools… that’s probably not logical.” However, she pointed out that the expected tight county budget this year will affect the school system’s budget request, too.

“I can only vote on what we know right now, and what we know right now is at the equalized rate, the shortfall to the schools would be between $18 and $20 million,” Randall said. “I can’t support that.”

The committee also reaffirmed its guidance on writing the first draft of next year’s budget, directing County Administrator Tim Hemstreet to draft a budget at the equalized tax rate—the rate at which the average homeowner pays the same dollar amount in real estate tax, despite changing property values—and options to cut or add to the budget by 2 cents on the tax rate.

This year, county budget officers estimate each penny on the real estate tax rate is worth $8.6 million in county revenues. The current local real estate tax rate is $1.085 per $100 of assessed value; next year’s equalized rate is currently estimated to be 3.3 cents lower, or $1.05.

“The purpose of the plus and minus is not the end result,” said finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “It’s to see what staff’s recommendations are for what they would cut if they could cut something, or what they would add if they could add something,” giving supervisors guidance as they add or take expenses out of the county budget.

The committee was split on that guidance, voting 3-2, with Randall and Supervisor Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling) opposed.

“Were this my first year on this board, I would support this with no trouble, but because for the past two years we’ve gone under the equalized tax rate—so it’s not like I don’t have some experience to pull from of what our full body tends to do, and how that looks,” Randall said.

2 thoughts on “Supervisors Wonder if Schools’ Share of Budget Growth Should Be Cut

  • 2018-12-18 at 2:31 pm

    The split should be 50-50. The County has many needs and LCPS has a lot of wants, but very few needs. Stop overfunding the LCPS budget. It is ridiculous that the (Republican !) BoS has been increasing the LCPS budget at 2x enrollment growth year after year. 1x maximum and .5 is even better. It is better for money to serve ALL residents by directing it to County services instead of just SOME residents by overfunding the LCPS budget.

    Of course, if LCPS needs more funds to rehabilitate its drunk teachers, predatory teachers, and football players with a penchant for sexual assault, that would be understandable but those should be budgetary line items.

  • 2018-12-20 at 10:14 am

    Great comment. But whey should there even be a defined split? LCPS has proven it cannot accurately forecast its budget ($40M excess funding each year despite carrying a $15-20M fund balance as a cushion and the BOS as a backstop).

    The BOS should perform a complete review of the LCPS books and forecast methods and derive the amount of funding LCPS needs. Given the virtually non-existent enrollment growth now (~1%), an excess of $40M in its budget each year, and a flood of teacher applicants (indicates very high pay), LCPS needs only the same funding as last year – flatline funding.

    The BOS (supposed Republicans but obviously most are RINOs) needs to cut the property tax rate to 95 cents.

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