The Board of Supervisors’ finance committee is discussing whether the county board should give up on budget talks with the School Board and simply automatically allocate a certain portion local tax revenues each year.
While the School Board has control over its own budget, it has no taxing authority and gets the bulk of its funding from the county government. The Board of Supervisors for years has, as a starting point to budget talks, dedicated roughly two-thirds of new local tax revenues—the year-over-year growth in tax revenues, after new debt and capital expenses—to the School Board.
However, as the school district’s historically rapid growth has slowed and board members express frustration with the annual budget debates, supervisors are looking into new ways to organize their funding talks. In practice, the percentage of new local tax funding that goes to the school system after county budget deliberations conclude has generally decreased over the past decade.
And the new tax revenue split does not equate to two-thirds of all county taxes going to the school district—in the fiscal year 2022, the school system got $1.19 billion across all funds including debt service and capital expenditures, about 63% of the county’s $1.87 billion in local tax revenues. The school operating fund received $1 billion in funding, about 54% of local tax revenues.
Each year’s budget process is marked by a request from the School Board, questions from the Board of Supervisors to explain the budget request, reluctance from the School Board to give up that line-by-line autonomy over their own budget and often-acrimonious public debate about the county’s funding for the school system.
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said “we cannot keep doing what we’re doing right now.”
“It’s not working, it creates a lot of hostility. We get emails from teachers all the time,” she said.
The majority of supervisors on the committee favored a system that would set a revenue split and provide that amount to the School Board. Such an arrangement would not be unique—Prince William County, for example, for decades has passed its budgets with a revenue sharing agreement with the School Board, with occasional changes to the revenue split or extra funding sent to the schools.
Committee members were less interested in giving the School Board the option to argue for additional funding beyond a set revenue split.
“This is only going to work if the both bodies sort of commit to that process in good faith, and—maybe I’m just too jaded—I just don’t really see that happening,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). “… They want to just know what their number is and then they sort of have that discussion amongst themselves.”
“LCPS providing justification for a requested amount, I just think, is not something that they have shown interest in even trying to do,” Randall said.
Randall and finance committee Chairwoman Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) are expected to now request meetings with their School Board counterparts to continue to hash out a new system for funding the schools.