The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday night waded through a five-hour markup session that added and subtracted from the $1.395 billion Fiscal Year 2021 budget proposed by Superintendent Eric Williams, ending the night with $16.7 million in reductions.
Williams’ budget sought 521.25 additional full-time equivalent positions—bringing the school division’s staffing to a total of 12,320—and $113.6 million in additional spending—including a 10.8 percent increase in local tax funding.
The biggest chunk of Williams’ proposed budget dealt with raises for all staff members. Nearly half of the expense increase would be used to boost staff salaries. For teachers, salaries were proposed to increase between $3,726 and $8,029, with an overall average increase of $5,445 for the division’s 6,592 teachers, according to Williams’ presentation.
Since Williams proposed his budget on Jan. 9, the School Board—with seven of the nine members in their first month of service—held twice-weekly meetings to receive detailed briefings about each department and submitted more than 190 formal questions for the staff to research.
When it came time for formal votes on Tuesday, School Board members took the deepest cut early in the session, voting 6-3 to cap teacher raises at 6 percent. That is expected to achieve a $26.7 million savings.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) noted that Fairfax County’s proposed school budget eyes a 5.8 percent spending increase and about 3.5 percent pay increases for teachers, while the region’s consumer price increase came in at about 1.5 percent. In contrast, he said Williams was seeking an 8.9 percent overall increase, with teacher compensation increases—a combination of market adjustments, step increases and classification reviews—averaging more than 7 percent. He raised concerns that the proposal would result in raises as high as 16 percent for some teachers and some getting 25 percent raises over just two years.
Morse’s proposed 6 percent cap was countered with a new staff proposal for a 10.1 percent cap that would result in $5.4 million savings. Board Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) was among the supporters of that option, saying it was important to stay competitive in the market while trying to hire more than 800 teachers each year, and that it would send the wrong message to the staff to cut back on anticipated pay increases.
“I believe we all ran on working for the teachers and making sure this didn’t happen,” Leslee King (Broad Run) said.
But Morse said that, while the School Board has been and continues to be committed to improving teacher compensation, Williams’ proposal was too big of a leap. “A cap of 6 percent is not a small matter. It is not a small pay raise,” he said.
The majority backed Morse’s motion, with Sheridan, King and Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) opposed.
The action took a big step in addressing the anticipated $22.4 million funding shortfall in local tax funding if the Board of Supervisors holds the real estate tax rate level next year. County Administrator Tim Hemstreet is scheduled to present his budget to supervisors next Thursday.
At the end of Tuesday’s budget markup, which featured dozens of motions to add or subtract from Williams budget, it wasn’t entirely clear how close the school request will be to the available amount of local tax funding. Staff members planned to review the final tallies on Wednesday.
Among the other budget changes were to:
• hire a staff member to block unsuitable websites and prevent student abuse using the school-issued Chromebooks, addressing concerns raised by parents over the past several months;
• cut fees charged to student athletes from $150 per sport to $75;
• reduce middle school class size targets to 23.7 students;
• hire 15 more high school counselors;
• increase the proposed raises for classified employees from 1 percent to 2.5 percent;
• add 48 elementary school teaching assistants;
• provide classroom start-up allotments to all teachers at the beginning of the year, picking up a role currently provided by PTAs; and
• add winter track as a Tier 1 sport.
In the final tally, the school division budget administrators calculated that the spending plan would require $915.9 million in local tax funding, $15.9 million less than Williams’ proposal. Under current estimates based on the Board of Supervisors’ direction for Hemstreet to base his budget on revenue generated by holding the real estate tax rate level next year, the projected school funding shortfall stands at $6.5 million.
The School Board is scheduled to meet with the Board of Supervisors to discuss the budget on Feb. 24.