Residents Urge Loudoun Supervisors to Spare Schools Budget

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By Christopher Twarowski
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dozens of Loudoun County parents, teachers, senior citizens and other residents packed a public hearing on the county budget Thursday afternoon, most of them pleading with the Board of Supervisors to protect funding for schools and other programs despite a dire fiscal outlook.

Faced with a steep drop in real estate assessments, County Administrator Kirby M. Bowers has proposed a budget of $1.45 billion for the next fiscal year that would eliminate 114 staff positions, freeze employee salaries and increase fees while reducing the average property tax bill by more than 3 percent. He has also submitted proposals for additional cuts of 5, 10 and 15 percent in local government spending, and supervisors have said they are considering some of the deeper reductions so taxes can be lower.

Stacy Turner, a third-year Loudoun County public school teacher and mother of two, was one of many speakers who urged the supervisors to approve all of the school system's funding request, as Bowers has recommended.

Turner sobbed during her two-minute address to the board, as she talked about how her husband had been unemployed and their house had lost $250,000 in equity. As much as the economic downturn has hurt her family's finances, she said, a long-term investment in education is more important than the size of this year's tax bills.

"Our economic future is uncertain," Turner said. "Schools have always been considered the cornerstone of a community, the one constant. Being a mom and a teacher, I see that now more than ever."

Ken Hovatter, a farmer from the Dulles District, made a similar pitch in his comments to the board. Hovatter, who has two children in the county school system, said his sales revenue has dropped by half in the past two years. But he said he would gladly pay more in taxes to ensure that schools are fully funded.

"I do not want us to retreat from the outstanding public educational system we have in Loudoun," he said. "I know it will mean more in real estate taxes for me. . . . But I will gladly pay more, because it is worth it."

A standing-room-only crowd filled the auditorium at the government center in Leesburg, and some waited in two other rooms for their turns to speak after board Vice Chairman Supervisor Susan Klimek Buckley (D-Sugarland Run) announced that the fire marshal would be enforcing the 250-person maximum occupancy for the auditorium.

The hearing was one of five the board scheduled last week. Other hearings took place Wednesday and Thursday evenings, and two more were scheduled for yesterday.

Senior citizens at Thursday afternoon's session spoke out mostly against reducing the hours at Loudoun's senior centers. Those hours would be trimmed under some of the funding scenarios that Bowers has proposed.

"These activities keep the seniors alert, active, motivated and, most important, it helps us mentally and physically," said Jean Hendrickson, 72, a member of the Dulles South Senior Activity Center. "Cutting our hours will mean being alone, doing nothing and forgetting everything."

A group of about a dozen seniors from the Cascades Senior Center broke into song.


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