The Loudoun County School Board has given Superintendent Eric Williams more than he asked for.
At its January 29 meeting the board approved an amended Proposed Fiscal Year Operating 2016 Budget that now totals $982 million — $1.2 million more than Williams had requested.
Williams presented his first budget proposal as Superintendent to the Loudoun County School Board in early January asking for $68 million. An average 2.5 percent pay raise for teachers and staff topped off his list of requests.
The Board matched Williams’ requests in kind. It voted that LCPS employees who are already at the top of all pay scales will see their paychecks bumped up thanks to a one-time increase representing 1 percent of their annual salary. This can be achieved with no fiscal impact to the budget.
The board hopes to reduce the LCPS employee health insurance program by five percent – from 15 to 10 percent – for a cost savings of $2.6 million while also reducing the health insurance premium increase from 10 to 9 percent, which saves $450,000.
Altogether, the board approved 10 motions that altered the budget in ways sure to have parents and school staff alike celebrating. High school class sizes will be reduced by one student each, which will require the system to open up an additional 41 full-time teaching positions to the tune of $3.69 million. The board also hopes to reduce class size contingency positions from 40 to 35 full-time-equivalent positions for a savings of $450,000.
Kindergarten classes, which have had to make numerous concessions during the past few budget cycles, are primed to make a resurgence. Williams’s budget sought to allot for the addition of an estimated 1,875 full-time Kindergartners as well as a more than 2,500 additional students across all grades. While aiming to fund all-day kindergarten classes at those schools with space available, the 15-to-one student teacher ratio means 14 full-time employees have been removed from the budget. This will save the school system just short of $1 million.
The budget includes a handful of restorations, including fully scheduled summer schools and the reinstatement of 14 eliminated middle school library assistants. These two restorations total around $1.8 million.
Smaller line items include building a playground at Meadowland Elementary for $50,000 and hiring a transition specialist who will be able to assist special education students. This position will be advertised for $119,000. Lastly, the board hopes to shuffle several staff members from Heritage and Potomac Falls high schools to Park View High School, which will have no effect to the budget.
When presenting his budget in early January, Williams lauded LCPS’s successes, including its high SOL pass rates and its ability to make concessions to close the budget gap. Those concessions, chief among them freezing Library assistant positions, passing on athletics participation fees to students and not offering teachers and staff pay raises beyond cost of living increases, are forcing LCPS to bend to where it might break. This argument will most likely be heard time and again as the budget is presented to the Loudoun Board of Supervisors this month.
In order to fund these requests and more, the board must accept the equalized tax rate, which is estimated at $1.13 per $100 in assessed value. This would leave an estimated $30 million gap and assumes the Loudoun’s Board of Supervisors will give them $59.7 million from the general fund.
It’s a tall order, but one that Williams isn’t asking for in blind faith. Still, the comprehensive list of requests comes after last year’s especially contentious budget season when the Loudoun Board of Supervisors’ budget left the school system with a $38 million shortfall.