As the Board of Supervisors plans to take is final straw votes on the fiscal year 2022 county budget tonight, the School Board chairwoman plans to be at the table in an effort to block threats of targeted school spending cuts.
Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) warned her board colleagues Tuesday night that some county supervisors planned to use the final mark-up work session on March 24 to delete or reduce funding for specific School Board priorities—potentially including staff raises. Already, the county board voted to cut $4.2 million to expand online class offerings through the Virtual Loudoun platform.
County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) pushed to cut that money arguing that the program was described as one-time spending in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, and which therefore could be funded through federal American Rescue Plan Act money.
“That makes this one-time use money, and one-time use money should not be built into the permanent budget,” Randall said. She said if the program continues into the future years, she will be open to adding it to the budget then.
“If we want to institute some form of online learning on an ongoing basis in Loudoun County, I would like to see us examine it and study it, and truly do it in less of an emergency type situation like we’ve had to do this year,” said Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian).
Supervisors voted 6-1-1-1, with Supervisor Kristen C. Umstattd (D-Leesburg) opposed, Supervisor Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run) abstaining and Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) absent.
The school division staff raised concerns about that action, pointing to restrictions on use of the federal money to supplant previously authorized funding.
While the Board of Supervisors controls the purse strings—how much local tax money to allocated to school operations each year—state law leaves it to the School Board to decide how that money is spent. Sheridan said supervisors are seeking to impose line-item vetoes within the school budget.
“I’m am also hearing that there are more cuts combining and I’m concerned about that,” she said.
“What concerns me is that is it not just about setting a tax rate. The way that they are doing motions this year … they are targeting specific programs. While they don’t have line-item veto on our budget they are certainly making their budget reductions to the local transfer based on that,” Sheridan said. “Some of the ones I’ve been alerted to today, I just have to say, make me really angry.”
Other board members agreed with the concern.
Denise Corbo (At Large) called the approach “heart-wrenching” and said supervisors should “stay in their lane.” Beth Barts (Leesburg) said such efforts would be demoralizing to the school staff.
Jeff Morse (Dulles) who, along with Sheridan, has served on the board since 2011, said it had been at least a decade since county board members attempted to control spending on specific school programs. He noted that not only did the school budget meet the supervisors’ guidance for the amount of local funding available, but actually came in lower.
“If the Board of supervisors thinks they need to have line-item veto authority, then they need to run for the School Board,” he said.
The School Board had scheduled a Wednesday night meeting that would have prevented attendance at the county budget meeting, but that session was canceled.
Sheridan said she and Interim Superintendent Scott A. Ziegler would attend the supervisors’ meeting to answer questions about the school budget.
And, Sheridan pointed out, no matter what actions supervisors take, the School Board still has the last word on how the money will be spent.