The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday slashed $73 million from its adopted Fiscal Year 2021 budget, with the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic wiping out plans for substantial teacher raises and cutting more than 200 new staff positions.
The action came after the Board of Supervisors opted to hold $60 million in anticipated school funding in reserve until the full impacts of the COVID-19 taxes and revenue losses are known. The General Assembly also held back some expected funding.
Entering their final budget reconciliation session Tuesday, some School Board members held out hope of providing teachers with a raise of some sort, albeit far below the 6-percent average increase they approved just weeks earlier.
While several School Board members said they supported the idea of providing at least a step-increase raise—typically between $1,000 and $3,000—to teachers next year, they couldn’t find the cuts to make that happen.
Denise Corbo (At Large) led the effort, proposing a $13.3-million cut to operations that she said could be achieved by postponing spending and purchases across many school division departments, with those items getting funding once the county and state governments release sequestered funds.
“Our teachers are like the first responders for our children,” Corbo said, adding they’ve taken on tremendous work as they started working in virtual classrooms. “In the midst of distance learning they are on the ones keeping everything together. They are the glue.”
A board majority, however, questioned the merits of directing the staff to implement a non-specific spending deferral, and agreed that a better approach would be to put the teacher raises at the top of the priority list once funds are released, even providing retroactive raises.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) served on the board during the recession eight years ago and warned members of the pain that comes with voting for layoffs when the economy sharply falls.
“Thirty-eight million Americans are jobless, but not one of them is an LCPS teacher,” Morse said. “I’d like to keep it that way.”
Corbo’s plan was supported only by Beth Barts (Leesburg) and John Beatty (Catoctin).
The COVID-19 crisis also cost students a planned 10-cent reduction in school lunch prices next year. The decision to hold off on that price cut was supported unanimously. The extra revenue, up to $300,000, didn’t help balance the operating budget shortfall, but will provide a buffer in the district’s nutrition fund.
To balance the budget, the board largely adopted a long list of cuts proposed by the administrative staff during the past several weeks, with the largest chunk coming from planned raises for all school employees.
During Tuesday’s work session, Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) provided the most substantial changes to that list, with a motion to add back in more special education teachers and assistants along with a pair of English language learner teachers, among other changes. Those additions were largely offset by the elimination of hiring 31 contingency teachers, a $3.2 million savings. The positions are assigned to schools where enrollment is higher than expected.
The revised FY21 school budget totals $1.3 billion and includes 12,152 full-time equivalent staff positions.