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Loudoun School Board adopts budget

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The Loudoun County School Board adopted an $809 million reconciled operating budget for fiscal 2013 at a meeting Tuesday night, a step that board members hope will mark an end to a tedious, months-long negotiation process.

But a conclusion to their work isn’t certain just yet. The plan is contingent upon an anticipated $7.9 million in additional state funds, an appropriation that must be approved by the county Board of Supervisors. The supervisors, who are expected to make a decision this week, have cautioned the School Board not to count on the state money.

The School Board was initially left facing a $22 million shortfall following the adoption of the county budget April 4. Once additional appropriations and the projected state revenue increase of $7.9 million were taken into account, the number was ultimately lowered to about $12 million, schools officials said.

Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III provided a list of recommended cuts to the School Board, most of which were accepted. Those included the elimination of 112 full-time positions — most of which were vacant or new — and the removal of the county’s SAT preparation program and additional reductions in operational costs.

Despite the cuts, the School Board emphasized a commitment to prevent further increases in class size and also fought to include modest raises for school system employees. The plan adopted Tuesday includes a $1,500 raise for all teachers and administrators — except for those at the top of the pay scale, who instead would receive a one-time bonus of $1,500 — and a 60-cent increase in hourly wages for classified employees.

It was an unusually long and often controversial budget process for the school system this year, with the School Board dominated by a majority of newcomers who ran on campaigns emphasizing fiscal responsibility. As a result, it was the first time in several years that cuts were made to Hatrick’s original $831.6 million proposal before it was reviewed by the Board of Supervisors.

At Tuesday’s meeting, board members appeared united in their hope that the additional state funds would prevent the need for further reductions.

School employees share that hope, said Sandy Sullivan, president of the Loudoun Education Association.

In the past, she said, the Board of Supervisors has sometimes opted to use such appropriations to reduce the local transfer of tax funds for schools, instead of dedicating the funds to supporting the schools budget.

“Some [Board of Supervisors] members had said they were already concerned about a $22 million deficit,” she said. “Now is the supervisors’ chance to make sure that the School Board doesn’t have to deal with more cuts.”

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