The Loudoun County School Board last week presented several state legislators with a wish list that includes the establishment of guidance programs in elementary schools, a requirement for background checks on all applicants for school employment in Virginia, and a law that would allow school districts to install seat belts in school buses.
Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun) and Dels. Robert T. Andrews (R-Fairfax) and Kenneth Rollins (R-Loudoun) also heard School Superintendent Robert Butt and a majority of the School Board plead for full funding of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) state-mandated programs that are currently funded based on a school district's ability to pay.
School Board member Betty Poehlman said that Loudoun, which spends some of its own funds for quality educational programs not mandated by the state, is being punished because the state looks at local revenue generated, not at what is being spent. "We are penalized because we offer excellent education in Loudoun," she said.
The board and the administration are especially concerned, Butt said, about a recent report from the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC), a watchdog agency of the General Assembly. The report said the legislature should increase current SOQ funding by $192 million, a figure $227 million said.below an estimate recently made by the state Department of Education. If the JLARC figures are accepted by the General Assembly, Butt said, it could mean big increases in local taxes for schools.
"Those figures look more like funding for the standards of mediocrity," one board member quipped.
In addition, School Board members told the legislators they want mandated background checks for all prospective school employes, including maintenance personnel, because of increasing reports of child molestation and abuse by school employes around the country.
The request for elementary school guidance counselors -- while not a pressing need, according to Butt -- was included in the package because people coming into the county from other districts are "used to having such counselors, and we expect pressure to include them in school personnel." One board member suggested that counseling at an early age, especially during family stress or loss by death of divorce, could prevent bigger problems later on.
Despite Waddell's comment that school buses are "the safest vehicles on the road," board member Bonnie Epling said she is a strong supporter of seat belts on school buses because of both safety concerns and the educational message the school district sends by not having them.
"We are now educating a generation of children who have worn seat belts since the day they came home from the hospital," Epling said. "For the first four years of their lives, their parents have been buckling them up. What kind of a message do we send when our buses don't have them?"
Although Loudoun school bus drivers have an excellent safety record, Epling said later, figures from the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration cited 17 fatalities out of 48,000 school bus accidents across the country in 1983.
Epling said a bill recently introduced by Rep. Peter H. Kostmayer (D-Pa.) offering incentives to states that use school bus seat belts is opposed by school bus manufacturers, who cite added cost and inadequate proof that belts are necessary. Pediatricians and parent groups support Kostmayer's bill, she said. Currently only 20 school districts in the country use the belts.
Waddell and Andrews indicated they may introduce a mandatory seat belt law in the upcoming legislative session. According to Rollins, such a law could include school buses.