The School Board is expected today to approve a $245 million budget proposal to send to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors that would eliminate new instructional programs but leave intact a sweeping proposal to boost teacher salaries.
A surprise straw vote on the budget came at 11 p.m. Tuesday, more than six hours after School Board members began discussing that and other issues. School officials had hoped to reach consensus on the budget Tuesday, but some said it would be impossible because the new board had taken office only a week earlier and had an enormous amount of information to digest.
"It's a slow process because the issues are not solely financial," said School Board Chairman Joseph W. Vogric (Dulles). "They are financial and philosophical."
The straw vote to cut $2.36 million from School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III's budget proposal was unanimous. Initially, board members J. Warren Geurin (Sterling), Geary M. Higgins (Catoctin), John A. Andrews II (Broad Run) and Tom Reed (At Large) voted against the budget. But consensus was achieved after the remaining five board members agreed to defer for a year the introduction of foreign language study in some elementary schools, saving $250,000.
Board members said they wanted to give supervisors a spending plan that carries their unanimous support. Supervisors have the final say on how much money the School Board can spend, and the School Board decides how to spend it.
"It shows there is confidence in the budget," Vogric said. "I think the united front is worth far more than that $250,000."
Most of the cuts--about $1.7 million--will come from proposed new instructional programs. Plans to begin American Sign Language study, a string instrument music program and an upgraded art program are gone from the budget proposal. Efforts to reduce high school class sizes and the caseloads of guidance counselors also have been eliminated.
The board slashed $45,000 to buy uniforms for school bus drivers and more than $300,000 worth of upgrades to the athletic facilities at Loudoun County and Park View high schools.
Hatrick said he was frustrated by the cuts in curriculum.
"Obviously, I don't feel good about it," he said. "It's such a small amount of money. Obviously, if I put them in, they are high priority."
Hatrick has tried to create a string music program since he became the district's top official nine years ago. An elementary foreign language program has been pushed even longer, he said.
Some School Board members also expressed regret that enhancements to learning are often put off in favor of expenses related to the district's rapid growth.
"That has been my biggest frustration--to not feel that I'm offering more to these kids than what they got 10 years ago," said member Candyce P. Cassell (Sugarland Run). "It's almost like I have turned off my ability to dream for these kids. I have seen the fiscal reality."
There was extensive debate among board members about whether to defer the $250,000 elementary foreign language program.
"If we're talking about preparing children for what is an increasingly global economy, than we should keep this one-tenth of 1 percent of the budget," said member Patrick F. Chorpenning Jr. (Mercer)
Vice Chairman Harry F. Holsinger (Blue Ridge) said Loudoun is the only Washington-area school district that doesn't offer a second language to its youngest students.
"I'm certainly hearing from constituents who have moved here from other areas that we're not providing the basic education," he said.
But other members said it was unclear how much the program would cost in future years and how it would work. Deferring it for a year would give both school officials and board members time to study the idea, they said.
"I am not against this program," Andrews said.
Despite rejecting some of Hatrick's proposals, the School Board has shown "absolute commitment" to his biggest initiative, raising teacher salaries, he said.
"That's the way the process works," Hatrick said.
The $17.6 million salary proposal would boost teacher pay to nearly equal, and in some cases even surpass, what is offered by neighboring Fairfax County. Loudoun school officials have long argued that they must raise teacher salaries to attract and retain the best instructors.
Some teachers contend, however, that the effort to achieve parity is being diluted because the School Board also added five days to the teachers' work calendar.