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Correction to This Article
Because of a computation error, the article incorrectly said that the Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III is seeking a 5.4 percent increase in operating funds. If approved, the increase would be 4.4 percent.

Loudoun school proposal in 'holding pattern' as system grows

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By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Loudoun County school leaders proposed Tuesday to boost class sizes next year by one student at every grade level to meet a tighter budget, and warned of deeper cuts if the county fails to allocate more money to the fast-growing school system.

The Loudoun County Public Schools administration is seeking a 5.4 percent increase in its operating funds, according to a new budget presented Tuesday. The proposal includes no job cuts or significant rollbacks in student services and would raise the salaries of school employees by 1 percent.

Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III called the plan a "holding pattern budget" because enrollment in county schools continues to grow. Hatrick said the school system expects to add 3,257 students next year. This year, Loudoun is adding a new elementary school and two new high schools, big-ticket items for any school system.

"The growth is not over in Loudoun County, and I don't think it will be over for some time to come," Hatrick said.

A budget short on cuts could open a battle between school leaders and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. County funds make up 70 percent of the Loudoun school system's $730 million operating budget.

The school's budget proposal starts negotiations between school leaders and the county Board of Supervisors. A final county budget is scheduled to be adopted in April.

Tensions have escalated in recent months as school leaders have complained that county officials are shortchanging their long-term needs and raiding their reserves.

Supervisors are grappling with a $192 million budget gap. Figures being studied by county staff members suggest that the schools might have to shed 600 to 700 employees to meet budget goals.

But Hatrick shot down talk of large-scale employee cuts. "We are adding over 3,000 students this coming year," he said. "I don't see any way that that could occur."

He said the class-size increase would eliminate the need for about 100 additional teacher positions. Another 43 unfilled jobs in the central office and elsewhere would be cut under his plan.

He said a decision by the county to reduce funds could force employee furloughs and fewer field trips along with reductions in of assistant athletic directors, athletic trainers, middle school and high school deans, SAT teachers, technology assistants and reading specialists. "If we don't get full funding, we will be at the point where reductions will be in people and programs that will be felt by students," Hatrick said.

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