In an unscheduled move during the late hours of a Tuesday night meeting, the Loudoun County School Board made further cuts to its previously adopted operating budget for fiscal 2013 — trimming approximately $2.4 million and removing 40 new full-time positions from the plan.
The decision to revisit the budget, which has been presented to the county Board of Supervisors for review, surprised Loudoun public schools staff and several board members and led to rising tension on the dais.
The motions to make additional cuts followed a public input session where numerous schools employees protested reductions already made by the School Board as part of the $822.1 million budget adopted last week.
That budget was $11 million less than the fiscal plan proposed by Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III.
Several teachers, clad in red T-shirts, addressed the School Board on Tuesday to urge them to reconsider cuts to Loudoun’s foreign language in elementary schools program.
“Language takes time to master. Exposure must begin at an early age and continue throughout the formative years,” said Miriam Kirkendall, an elementary school foreign language teacher. “The FLES program is beneficial for all students. … School Board members are elected to represent and support the educational needs of our students. Please do what you are elected to do and reinstate this program.”
The decision to make additional cuts around 10 p.m. Tuesday came as a shock to many who expected that no further reductions would be made until April, after the Board of Supervisors has adopted its county-wide fiscal plan and the School Board is tasked with budget reconciliation. The proposed motions were not part of the published meeting agenda, and occurred after much of the public audience in the boardroom had left.
The votes once again emphasized the apparently widening gulf between some newly elected members of the board and veteran members Jennifer Bergel (Catoctin), Tom Reed (At Large) and Brenda Sheridan (Sterling). The veteran members opposed the proposed cuts, which eliminated several new librarians and custodians, among other positions.
Toward the end of the meeting, Reed asked Hatrick if he had known that the budget would be revisited at the meeting. Hatrick took the opportunity to express frustration at the unexpected deviation from the planned agenda.
“Staff has been sitting here tonight trying to follow what was being done,” he said. “We meet to set the agenda, we set the agenda, we publish the agenda … it’s really hard for us to help if we’re not privy to the fact that you’re going to reopen the operating budget, and apparently some of you knew that was going to occur, but certainly none of the staff did.”
Reed then asked School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) if he knew that the budget would be addressed at the meeting.
“If you were aware, you did not feel it necessary to inform the entire board or the staff?” Reed asked.
“I do not feel the need to answer the question,” Hornberger said.
“Thank you, sir, you answered my question,” Reed said sharply. He stood from his seat and left the meeting.
Sandy Sullivan, president of the Loudoun Education Association, said her organization has been flooded with calls from concerned employees and parents asking about the legality of the School Board’s actions.
“My understanding is that [the School Board members] have certainly not done anything against policy, but I’m very concerned and I’ve communicated with several of them already about the lack of transparency,” Sullivan said.
She said the additional cuts to new positions were also alarming.
“I just believe it’s too early to go down this path. We are well aware that cuts will have to be made, we are not unaware of the economic condition,” said Sullivan. “But to put forth a budget to the supervisors before the whole county has been able to weigh in on this really concerns me.”
Sullivan, who has been involved in the Loudoun school system for 18 years, said the board’s move stunned her.
“I’ve never in all my years of following budgets seen a change to a budget come up this way,” she said.