County supervisors have welcomed news of what could be an unusually agreeable school budget debate this year, possibly setting up the school system to get everything it asked for this year.
Each year, the county administrator hands the school board guidance for its budget based on projections of county tax revenues. Typically, the School Board’s subsequent budget request is beyond what the county says it will have available, and board members and county supervisors spend weeks debating—or battling out—the difference.
But this year, for the first time in years, the school system’s proposed budget is within that fiscal guidance. Which could mean that this year, the first time in years, the school system gets every dollar of its $1.284 billion request.
“I think that when they come in at the fiscal guidance, it makes a much harder case on why we would not support that level,” said Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) after a joint meeting with the School board Monday night. He said the county has to make sure teacher pay is “fiscally sustainable.”
But that doesn’t mean the school system’s work won’t come under scrutiny from county supervisors. While School Board members and school administrators say their budget is focused on creating more racial and income-level equity in the school system—from hiring a more diverse workforce, to providing cultural competency training, to funneling more minority students into gifted and specialty programs—County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) remained skeptical. She pointed to relatively few minority students at the Academies of Loudoun, and persistent gaps in minority hiring, academic achievement and discipline. She wondered if school system’s strategies to tackle those issues need to be revisited.
“While I am very gratified that some of these things are being put in place, it does feel like Groundhog Day to me, because it feels like we’ve had these discussions before,” Randall said.
This year, the school system plans to spend money to launch or expand a number of programs aimed at leveling the playing field for minority students. That includes creating a job overseeing equity issues throughout the school system, and another overseeing the EDGE Academy, an after-school program that targets elementary students from underrepresented populations—such as those from low-income families or racial minorities—who have a knack for science, math and technology but don’t typically have access to enrichment programs to hone those skills.
Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) said she was very happy that the school system will expand computer science programs in elementary schools, she wanted to see the school system do even more to expand computer science immersion in elementary schools.
At Meadowland, Moorefield Station and Round Hill Elementary Schools, every student spends at least 30 minutes every day learning computer coding. School Superintendent Eric Williams said there are not specific plans to expand that level of immersion to every school, he but didn’t rule it out eventually.
“I think that people are going to be incredibly enthusiastic on the extent of integration, and will be following the same model,” Williams said. “So as long as we continue to add course offering and opportunities for success at those levels while also boosting extracurricular opportunities, I think that’s going to put us on the right pathway.”
The county’s fiscal guidance to the school system was based on a budget at the equalized real estate tax rate, meaning the rate at which the average Loudoun homeowner pays the same dollar amount despite rising property values. This year, that rate is estimated at $1.05 per $100 of assessed value, a 3.5-cent cut to the current rate.