Loudoun County Public Schools Superintendent Scott Ziegler introduced his proposed $16 billion budget Wednesday, seeking a 5.9% increase over the current fiscal year budget, and to bring International Baccalaureate to Loudoun schools, foreign languages to elementary schools and an average 5% raise for teachers.
The spending plan, this year titled the “Superintendent’s Estimate of Needs,” would require a 7.5% increase in local tax funding to a total of $1.09 billion, $75.6 million more than this year.
The year-over-year growth in the budget will once again outpace student enrollment growth. The student population is projected to grow by 1.7%, to an estimated 83,039. That total is 3.3% lower than the enrollment projections—projections that proved too high—that formed the base of the current budget, about 3,000 fewer students.
The proposed spending increase, Ziegler said, is driven by climbing health insurance costs, increases in teacher salaries and the highest level of inflation since 1982. Of the $88.5 million increase over the current year’s budget, $80.2 million is attributed to employee compensation and the launch of a collective bargaining program. The school district is also seeing the population of students who need additional support, such as English language learners, grow more quickly than the population overall. He said $11.9 million was needed to keep up with inflation.
Ziegler said the school system’s proposed spending works out to $18,779 per student, which he said was one of the lowest per-pupil expenditures in the Washington, DC region. The per-pupil cost is 9.6% increase over the current year and 23% over the FY21 budget. The statewide average cost per student is $12,216.
Enrollment coming in lower than previous projections was a sticking point for board members.
“We would like to see how we can justify the increase in the budget, even though we have a reduction in the enrollment,” Harris Mahedavi (Ashburn) said. “I think have some way to display it in a matrix would be helpful for me and for Loudoun residents. That’s kind of a big shift.”
Ziegler responded saying that modest growth was still anticipated for the student body of the next several years.
Expectations for population growth are underscored in Ziegler’s Capital Improvement Projects fund proposal. Several new school buildings will be deferred for several years, resulting in the $163,990,000 in construction projects that had been planned for this year dropping to $91,065,000, a 44% drop off. Ziegler said he does not want to underestimate the division’s need to accommodate more student growth than expected for next year.
“My biggest worry is that we will be surprised with a huge influx of students in one year, and the possibility of being caught unawares and unprepared to handle a huge number of enrollees in a year,” Ziegler said.
The 5% teacher raises would include any step-increases that employees were scheduled to receive. For example, if a teacher was scheduled for a 2% step increase next year, the proposed raise would account for the remaining three percent.
“Some of the teachers would receive a little bit more, some would receive a little bit less, with the focus going to further reducing the gap for our mid-year and late-year teachers,” Ziegler said, noting the ongoing effort to better match the pay bands of other school districts in the region.
New initiatives in Ziegler’s proposed budget include introducing world languages to elementary schools, beginning International Baccalaureate in two high schools, new supports for English language learners and extracurriculars, and enhancements to student mental health supports.
Ziegler’s proposal also includes $3.3 million held in reserve in anticipation of collective bargaining for school employees, and a proposal to hire 17 full-time substitute teachers to address difficulties in finding substitutes.
And despite new programs such as International Baccalaureate and a new school opening, Elaine E. Thompson Elementary with the budgeting equivalent of 40 full-time positions or FTEs, the school district would see its projected staffing drop by 183.1 FTEs overall based on lower-than-projected enrollment.
Based on the latest guidance from the county administration, Ziegler said, his proposal is $7.3 million more than the county has said will be available to transfer to schools.
“I think this is a very thoughtful budget,” Vice Chairman Ian Serotkin (Blue Ridge) said after the presentation. “I appreciate that it incorporates a lot of the things that we as a board or we in conjunction with staff have discussed over the last six months in committee meetings and board meetings and previous budget conversations.”
The School Board’s first budget work session is scheduled for Jan. 11, and the first public hearing on Jan. 25, with a vote on the budget expected Feb. 2.
This story was updated Jan. 6 at 2:28 p.m.