Early Budget Outlook: Schools May Need $100M More Next Year

Loudoun County Public Schools could need a boost in funding to the tune of $100 million next fiscal year to keep up with enrollment growth, staff new school buildings and expand full-day kindergarten, according to division budget leaders.

That would be above and beyond the current fiscal year’s $1.24 billion budget.

Loudoun’s School Board got its first glimpse of what could be in store for the county’s public schools in fiscal year 2019 at its Aug. 8 meeting, almost five months before Superintendent Eric Williams unveils his recommended spending plan.

“These are very early estimates. … The first projection is always the highest projection,” Assistant Superintendent for Financial Services E. Leigh Burden told board members. “Although it is too early to provide firm data for FY19, staff have attempted to provide some broad projections so that everyone has an early understanding of the potential needs of LCPS for FY19.”

She told the board to brace for as much as $35.1 million in new expenditures just to keep up with enrollment growth. School leaders will not be able to provide a firm enrollment projection for the 2018-2019 school year until next month, but for now, they expect an increase of about 3.1 percent, to total 84,187 students. To keep pace with how much the county spends on average per student now—$13,688—it would need $35.1 million more next year.

The board may also need to be prepared to spend another $6.6 million to staff new schools, including Goshen Post Elementary, Willard Intermediate, the Academies of Loudoun, a second yet-to-be-named elementary school and Independence High School.

Burden’s projections also included $19.2 million for pay increases of about 2.3 percent on average for all eligible employees; $14.6 million to continue funding a restructuring of teachers’ salaries; $5 million for required contributions to the Virginia Retirement System; and $7 million to cover increased health care costs.

The budget outlook included about $9.8 million for program enhancements and restorations: $2 million to expand full-day kindergarten, $2 million for textbooks and digital learning resources, $4 million to create new positions such as special education deans at high schools and $1.8 million in other instructional initiatives.

On the revenue side, Burden said it’s too early to know how much the school division will receive from the county, its largest funder. But revenue from the state could be up as much as $13 million because state leaders are recalculating the Local Composite Index, a formula used to distribute state tax dollars.

“That could be good news for us,” she said. “We are cautiously optimistic that we would get an increase, which would reduce our request for local transfer (county funding).”

[See the full budget outlook report here.]

As she always does when providing budget projections this far in advance, Burden offered a strong caveat to the board: “The information is only to illustrate to potential expenditures,” she said. “These items may or may not be included in the superintendent’s recommended budget—they are not recommendations—and the potential expenditures should not be interpreted as a recommended change in the budget.”

At the same meeting last week, the School Board discussed the potential schedule for its budget season. Staff is proposing that the superintendent present his budget recommendations Jan. 9 and the board adopt a budget Feb. 1. The board is slated to finalize its budget schedule at its Sept. 12 meeting.

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