Two weeks ago, the Board of Supervisors surprised the School Board by cutting $28.6 million from its adopted Fiscal Year 2022 budget, demanding reductions to planned staff raises and other line-item adjustments.
On Tuesday, the School Board got the first look at the changes proposed by Interim Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler and his staff that would be needed to rebalance its budget, and the outlook is not as bleak as expected.
An increase in state funding reduced the shortfall by $8.7 million. And then an unexpected ruling by the state Department of Education cleared the way for new federal emergency aid to pay for plans to expand summer school offerings, saving another $7.7 million. Then the staff found $4.5 million in planned one-time purchases that could be paid for using the year-end surplus.
Those changes cut the funding shortfall to just under $2 million. A proposal to drop the $1.9 million earmark to begin a collective bargaining program and to not hire six non-mandated health clinic specialists would bring the budget back into balance without touching the raise plan or other School Board priorities.
Following an April 15 public hearing and work session, the board plans to adopt the revised $1.48 billion budget April 20.
Although the budget process may end relatively painlessly, School Board members are still stinging from the unexpected battle with supervisors. They especially objected to the county board’s efforts to dictate line-item spending—not only to cut staff raises, but pushing for the elimination of fees charged to student athletes.
During Tuesday’s meeting, School Board members again stressed that state law provides them exclusive authority to create the budget, while the county board has control over how much local funding to provide. They said they didn’t want supervisors thinking they could wield such control in future budgets.
“I don’t want to play that game,” Jeff Morse (Dulles) said. “I am not going to support any of these line-item requests that came from the Board of Supervisors.”
Morse said that the staff and the School Board have done the detailed research needed to set the division’s priorities and that work shouldn’t be undermined by supervisors’ last-minute freelancing. He pointed to an item on that night’s agenda that listed 40 teacher resignations and retirements as evidence of the importance of the staff compensation plan.
Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) expressed a sense of betrayal after the School Board adopted a budget that was well within the Board of Supervisors’ spending guidelines.
“I thought we were being thoughtful, were being fiscally responsible,” he said. “We presented a very thoughtful, very pragmatic, needs-based budget to the Board of Supervisors. What did they do? They cut us down further and put us in this line-item approach.”
Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) said the supervisors’ actions served to prove a point he has been trying to make—to simply ignore the county board’s spending guidance and put forward a budget that covers the division’s needs. This year, he said, the state and federal governments proved to be better partners in meeting Loudoun’s education needs than did the Board of Supervisors.
He also challenged the “audacity” of supervisors to attempt to direct the dropping of athletic fees, an estimated $810,000 line item, saying a higher priority would be to stop charging students to take advanced placement tests.
“It is quite infuriating, isn’t it?” Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) said.
Later in the meeting Morse acknowledged the competing interests the two boards face.
“The two boards work together very well. This is the one area of most contention between the two board. And this happens frequently, some years it is stronger than other years,” he said. “When they fully fund out budget it is like icing on a cake—that’s awesome. But that doesn’t always happen. They have different responsibilities. They are looking at the entire county. They’re looking at incomes and expanses and trying to determine what to county needs to do to be successful in the next year. We have a mandate to provide a needs-based budget for the School Division. Those two visions don’t always line up and that’s OK. I think the constructive dialogue needs to continue and I think it is important for us to come to grips on the relationship and the responsibilities of each body. We are most effective when we do our job and they do their job.”
“We agree on the majority of the issues that come before us. That’s just not going to get the press and the national coverage,” Morse said.