The Loudoun School Board on Friday voted to increase its adopted budget, one which the Board of Supervisors had agreed to fully fund just the day before. But that wasn’t the most unusual aspect of the meeting, the first to be held since the declaration of national, state and local emergencies.
The Friday afternoon business meeting had eight School Board members and Superintendent Eric Williams seated at safe distances from each other in an otherwise empty meeting room, one member calling in from home where she was on self-quarantine after coming into contact with a known COVID-19 patient, and the school division’s senior staff gathered in a separate conference room down the hall. The public was left to watch the proceedings on a livestream feed to their TVs or computers.
That’s a scene likely to become for familiar over the next few months.
After already canceling most of its committee meetings, the School Board on Friday adopted policies that would allow more electronic meetings and establish procedures for public comment and public hearings to be conducted in writing rather and in person.
The actions are aimed at combating the spread of COVID-19 by limiting gatherings a to 10 or fewer people.
State law requires public bodies to assemble a quorum of members to conduct business, but the School Board resolution cited the series of national, state and local emergency declarations as justification for possibly holding future meetings electronically without an assembled quorum. The commonwealth’s open meeting laws allow such meetings to deal with emergencies, but it is unclear whether that rarely used provision allows public bodies to conduct other general public business in that format. Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued an advisory opinion on the question Friday.
The School Board’s budget action followed the passage of the state budget, which included $6.2 million more in state funding than had been projected. Board members were concerned that the Board of Supervisors, while voting to fully fund the school budget in straw votes, did not agree to pass on that full funding boost to the schools.
School Board members noted that state money was intended to provide teacher raises. Although their adopted budget already provide raises higher than the 2 percent earmarked in the state funding, School Board members pointed out that they had significantly reduced Williams’ proposed budget by limiting teacher raises to 6 percent.
The school board voted to increase its adopted budget by $3.7 million, earmarking the money for salaries. They also voted to reduce the anticipated local tax funding by $2.5 million, a move that would allow the county board to achieve a 1-cent reduction in the real estate tax rate.
It will be up to supervisors to adopt those changes during their final budget vote next month. If they reject the funding increase, the School Board will be required to meet again to identify $3.7 million in reductions.
During Friday’s session, the board also got a detailed update on the school division’s coronavirus response. On the academic front, there are still more questions than answers. State and local administrators are still working on protocols for distance learning, with projects so far limited to review of previously taught material without grades. No decisions have yet been made on larger issues including SOL testing and graduations.