County supervisors voted Thursday to use an unexpectedly high amount of education funding from the state government to close the gap between what the School Board had requested, and what the county had previously been willing to fund.
The state’s budget this year includes an anticipated $6.2 million more for Loudoun’s school system than local officials had budgeted for. That was more than enough to close the $2.5 million gap in the School Board’s $1.395 billion requested budget.
The state money will fill that gap while the county withdraws some local funding, about $3.7 million to keep the county’s real estate tax rate steady at $1.035 per $100 of assessed value.
During a March 19 work session, supervisors pushed both ways on that idea.
Supvervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) instead pushed to further reduce local funding to schools, allowing a gap to remain in the School Board’s request and pushing the tax rate down another half penny. He pointed out that the gap is a fraction of a percentage of the School Board’s total budget, about 0.002 percent.
“I think the time and season that we are in, we need balances on hand, and if we have that balance on hand we have options, and those options could be to fund shortages if we need them later,” Kershner said.
For a $500,000 property, the difference between a $1.035 and $1.03 tax rate amounts to a $25 cut from an annual tax bill of $5,175.
Meanwhile, Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian) pushed to keep all planned local funding in the school request, rather than adjusting for the additional state money—giving the school leaders more than they had asked for.
But the majority of supervisors supported Supervisor Michael R. Turner’s (D-Ashburn) motion to fill the gap and keep the rest in reserve, which he said “gives us options down the road.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) pointed out that the schools typically return far more than $2.5 million to the county in unspent funding at the end of the fiscal year.
“Any time we’ve had these gaps in the less than 1 or 2 percent range, it’s essentially a rounding error, and everybody out in the community and political season makes a big deal of undercutting the school budget by $10 million or $20 million or whatever when in reality the schools don’t even spend that much, some I’m not really worried about the $2.5 million.”
But this year, he said, the schools may face new challenges as they adapt to long-term closures and the fallout from COVID-19—which could mean buying more technology for remote learning, or keeping teachers working past their contracts into the summer.
“I’m OK with closing the gap this year because I think they probably will need more money, and I also want to send the message that we’re going to partners with them in what we’re trying to do, which is get through this,” Letourneau said.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) pointed out the School Board had already cut millions from Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams’ proposed budget to them before sending their request to the county board.
“This year we had a School Board that cut $16 million out the budget already, we have a school year that is in flux, we have teachers that may work past their contract date, and we have this COVID-19 situation,” Randall said.
Supervisors passed the budget adjustment 7-2, with Briskman and Kershner opposed.