In an unexpected move, Loudoun School Board makes deeper budget cuts

February 19, 2012

In an unscheduled move late in Tuesday night’s meeting, the Loudoun County School Board made further cuts to its previously adopted operating budget for fiscal 2013, trimming about $2.4 million and removing 40 new full-time positions from the plan.

The decision to revisit the budget, which had been presented to the county Board of Supervisors for review, surprised school employees and several board members and led to rising tensions at the meeting.

The motions to make additional cuts followed a public input session at which numerous school employees protested reductions already made by the School Board as part of the $822.1 million county schools budget adopted last week. The adopted budget was $11 million less than the fiscal plan proposed by School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III, prompting many school employees and parents to express concern that the School Board was making cuts before the Board of Supervisors reviewed the plan.

Several teachers, clad in red T-shirts as a show of protest against previous budget cuts, addressed the School Board on Tuesday to urge members to reconsider cuts to the 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 about 10 p.m. Tuesday came as a shock to the many who expected no further trims until April, after the Board of Supervisors adopted its countywide fiscal plan and the School Board takes up budget reconciliation. The proposed motions were not part of the published meeting agenda and occurred after much of the public audience had left the board meeting room.

The votes once again underscored the apparently widening gulf between some newly elected members of the School 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 whether 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) whether 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, after which he got up 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 are 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,” Sullivan said. “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 public school system for 18 years, said the School 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.

Caitlin Gibson is a local news and features writer for The Washington Post.
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