Schools Try to Cut Now to Save Later

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By Michael Birnbaum
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Loudoun County school system is trying to save money this fiscal year to collect a surplus that could ease the pain of cuts next year.

"We have been working on cost-containment measures almost since the fiscal year began," Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III said Tuesday at the School Board meeting.

Hatrick said he had asked each department to return 5 percent of the non-salary portion of its budget at the end of the fiscal year in June. He said the school system is also filling only essential job vacancies. He said he expects that those actions will save $7.1 million.

Individual schools might not receive the full amount budgeted to them. Standard procedure is to give them 90 percent of their funding at the beginning of the fiscal year and the remainder about this time as enrollment numbers are confirmed.

This year, however, schools will have to apply for any funding above the 90 percent level, and each request will be considered individually, school system spokesman Wayde Byard said. That step could save an additional $600,000, he said.

School Board members said that they supported the moves and that it was important for the system to tighten its belt. They also said that spending cuts could help the system when the Board of Supervisors considers the schools' funding request for next year.

"The supervisors said, 'If you keep your head down and ignore the facts, we're not going to have much sympathy for you in the spring,' " said School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) before the meeting Tuesday.

School officials said they were seeking assurances from the supervisors that the money they save this year will carry over to the school district next year. The practice in previous years has been that any surplus revenue in the school budget is returned to the general county fund.

"The process isn't perfect, but I still think doing it this way and getting an agreement from [the supervisors] is important," said School Board Vice Chairman John Stevens (Potomac). He said he was optimistic that something would be worked out.

County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers has said the county would face a $176 million budget shortfall next fiscal year if it tried to provide the same level of services without raising the property tax rate. Education accounts for more than 70 percent of Loudoun's budget.

In view of the county's worsening economic situation, School Board members discussed the idea Tuesday of preparing multiple budget proposals with different funding levels, including one based on a cut of up to 15 percent. The board plans to vote on that idea at its next meeting.

Stevens said that presenting several budget proposals would give supervisors a clear picture of how overall cuts in education funding would affect school programs.


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