Boards Talk Budget

Boards Talk Budget

Supervisors Question School Board’s Decision

School Board members made a plea to the Board of Supervisors and taxpayers the night of Thursday, March 8: Skip Starbucks once a week and fund the School Board’s budget.

The School Board met with the Board of Supervisors at the County Government Center in Leesburg to discuss the school’s operating budget and capital improvements plan (CIP).

School Board chairman Robert F. DuPree (Dulles) made a presentation highlighting high SAT scores, graduation rates and student enrollment projections Thursday night.

"The No. 1 driver is enrollment growth. It dominates everything we try to do," DuPree said. "We are still adding 3,000 students a year to our schools. That drives everything."

In an effort to keep up with the number of students entering schools every year, the School Board asked the Board of Supervisors to fully fund its budget, which most School Board members support as a responsible one.

The operating budget is in danger of being cut by $16 million if the Board of Supervisors adopts County Administrator Kirby Bowers' proposed 97.5 cent tax rate.

DUPREE REMINDED the Board of Supervisors that more students does not just mean more schools. It means an increase in utility costs, supplies and employees in the schools.

The county will open four new schools next year.

"That’s almost 600 new positions that we’re gonna have to have," DuPree said, "just to keep class sizes the same. Not even to bring them down."

Under the adopted budget, beginning teachers’ salaries would receive an approximately 6 percent increase in pay from $40,986 to $43,500.

Typically, teachers’ salaries are first to be put on the chopping block when budget cuts need to be made. But DuPree cautioned the Board of Supervisors in doing that.

"We want to make sure we can compete with Fairfax County," he said.

School Board member Priscilla Godfrey (Blue Ridge) said she wants to attract the "best and the brightest" future teachers, not the "last of the class."

"It is very difficult to hire and maintain new teachers," she said. "The best and the brightest, well they’re jumping over to Fairfax County."

SCHOOL BOARD member J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) criticized the Supervisors and taxpayers for focusing on the tax rate, rather than the needs of students.

"We took an oath to manage, care for and oversee the public schools. We did not take an oath regarding taxes, whether high or low," Geurin said. "Our budget is what it is. Anyone who thinks our request can be cut by $16 million, $20 million or $30 million, needs to be aware and fully understand that reductions of these magnitudes will inevitably lead to poorer quality of education."

SUPERVISORS FOCUSED on the CIP in the second half of the meeting.

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) said he would not support the Advanced Technology Academy, which jumped in cost from $70 million last year to $112 million this year.

"It’s too much in my book and I really don’t understand how it went from $70 million in the CIP last year to $112 million in the CIP this year," he said. "How did this happen?"

DuPree said the increase in cost can be attributed to cost of delays, new partnerships of the Claude Moore Foundation and Inova Loudoun, the campus-style setting and the fact that it will be a green building, or one that reduces impacts on human health and the environment.

Burton said the bond rating agencies have said the debt ceiling the Board of Supervisors adopted was a factor in "maintaining and sustaining a AAA bond rating." The $112 million project would surely put the county over the debt cap.

"I hope people understand how important the bond rating is to us," he said. "It means we get the lowest possible interest rate. If we sell $100 million or $150 million in bonds each year, it means millions in savings to taxpayers each year. I’m looking for a way to reduce the CIP some. I don’t know how to do it, but I’m going to start with that $112 million price tag."

School Board member Joseph Guzman (Sugarland Run), who voted against the operating budget, said the Advanced Technology Academy needs to be funded right away.

Guzman said he voted against the budget because of the rate at which it grew from last year.

"These things compound and they compound quickly. We have to watch the growth of the budget," he said. "I recommend we not cut more that $18 [million] or $20 million off the budget."

"It is about the education of our students, it is not about the tax rate their parents pay for their property," Geurin said.

GROWTH DOMINATED Thursday night’s conversation between the boards. In an effort to keep up with it, DuPree made a plea before the Board of Supervisors.

To fully fund the School Board’s adopted budget, it would cost the average taxpayer an additional 23 cents a day or $1.63 a week above the amount proposed by the county administrator, he said.

"Once a week, skip the Starbucks fix and fund the School Board’s budget," he said. "The charts tell the truth. Our predictions have pretty much been on the money and we stand by them."

Both boards will meet Saturday, March 24, to further discuss the school’s budget and CIP.