Loudoun schools chief says tax increase is necessary

By Sholnn Freeman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 17, 2010

The schools budget proposed last week might force the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to confront unpopular decisions about raising taxes.

On Tuesday, Loudoun School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III proposed a $764.7 million operating budget for fiscal 2011. The budget calls for a 4.4 percent increase over the previous year's budget. The budget also seeks a 5 percent increase in county funding as Loudoun is facing a $192 million budget gap.

Hatrick said the additional money is needed to accommodate growth in the school system, which expects to add 3,257 students next year. Loudoun is opening an elementary school and two high schools in the fall.

In an interview last week, Hatrick said it was "just crystal clear" that the county wouldn't be able to balance the budget through cuts alone.

"There is going to have to be increases in taxes to meet the needs of the county," he said. "My particular interest is meeting the needs of the students in our community."

On Thursday, Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) said the proposed 5 percent increase in county funding for schools next year is unlikely without boosting taxes.

"The only way we could get that would be to raise taxes," he said. "We have a lengthy and detailed budget process in front of us. I'm not ruling anything out."

Miller said he would spend time with residents getting "a feeling for how much this county can afford to pay" for schools.

He said the law required school administrators to recommend a budget that meets the needs of schoolchildren, not one geared toward solving the county budget problem.

"They aren't allowed to take that into consideration," he said. "I think I have to."

Scott K. York, chairman of the supervisors board, said Hatrick's budget was "in the right direction" of what board members and the county administrator expected. "But that's just the superintendent's budget," he said. "We will get it and deal with it as we get all of our other budget numbers."

York (I) didn't address whether he believed a tax increase would be necessary to fund the budget increase. County money currently makes up about 70 percent of the school system's operating budget.

The proposed school budget includes no job cuts or significant rollbacks in student services. The proposal raises the salaries of school employees 1 percent.

Sandy Sullivan, president of the Loudoun Education Association, said she supported Hatrick's budget. "We were glad to see that in Dr. Hatrick's proposed budget that it didn't include any reductions in force," she said. "That was a concern -- that we would be losing staff."

The association represents 3,400 employees in the county school system. She said she believed parents in Loudoun would go along with residential property tax increases to fund school programs.

"Schools need to be funded fully," she said. "Things are not going to continue to go as well as they have if funding isn't there. The way we'll get the local funds is increases in property taxes."

It isn't clear yet what the level of opposition would be if county leaders ultimately decided to push a tax increase. The county is scheduled to take up the school budget proposal next month. A final county budget is likely to be adopted in April.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company