Its first task is to review the system’s proposed $831.6 million budget for the next fiscal year, scheduled for adoption Tuesday. Among the priorities that members have identified: reducing class sizes and offering teachers a pay raise. Tight budgets in recent years have led to growth in average class size, and money for raises has been scarce.
“Many of us ran on campaigns about accountability and responsibility in the budget,” said new board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian). “We want to be accountable with the county taxpayers’ money. We are actively engaged in a way that the board hasn’t been for a long time . . . you’re seeing us go through the budget line by line.” In the November election, Rose unseated the board chairman, John Stevens.
It is too soon to tell how campaign promises will translate into action when the board faces sensitive issues such as finding sites for new schools — including a new high school in western Loudoun — or adjusting boundary lines for school attendance when new campuses are opened. But so far, some parents and members of education-focused political action committees said they are encouraged by the board’s scrutiny of the budget.
“I have watched their meetings, and I think they’re asking good questions,” said Anne Denzin of Lansdowne, mother of a middle school student. “There’s a lot of other things that as a parent I would like to talk about, but right now they have to do the budget, and I’ve been impressed so far.”
The November election produced the most significant shakeup of the Loudoun school board in more than a decade, as three incumbents were ousted and three others retired.
The last time Loudoun voters elected six new board members — in 1999 — fewer than 29,000 students were enrolled in county schools. In the years since, enrollment has more than doubled, to about 65,000 students. School officials say the student population is growing by about 2,500 youngsters each year.
At the board’s first meeting this month, the new members quickly set themselves apart from the previous board and their veteran colleagues when they sought to remove several items from the board’s agenda for legislative action in Richmond. Among those items was a recommendation to expand protected classifications in the Virginia Human Rights Act to include gender orientation and gender identity, which would in turn allow local school boards to be similarly inclusive in policies and regulations. The motion to remove the recommendation passed in a 6 to 3 vote that split new and veteran board members. Equality Loudoun, an activist group, criticized the action as a “sneer at human rights.”