The Loudoun County School Board on Tuesday adopted a $400.2 million budget for next year that hewed closely to the plan recommended by Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III in November. The board made just five changes, none involving more than $350,000 and cut about $153,000 from his original budget.
The budget includes $52.2 million in new spending, which school officials said would be spent largely on the 2,718 new students expected to join Loudoun schools next year and to cover raises for employees.
The budget, approved in an 8 to 0 vote, would require $41 million in new local tax funds, $26 million less than the School Board estimated last year would be needed but $19 million more than the Board of Supervisors asked the School Board to adopt in October. The supervisors are to take up the county's budget, including the School Board's request, in February.
Board members said they think that the budget, which for the first time in years includes no new instructional programs, is lean. They warned of a difficult reconciliation process if supervisors stick to their original suggestion -- a number based on a 1 percent rise in per-pupil spending over this year's budget.
"You can make some small adjustments," said School Board member John A. Andrews II (Broad Run), "but if you're talking in the range that they're talking about, $10 million or $20 million, you're talking pretty drastic cuts that will be extremely difficult.
"If I want to cut more, I would have to go into salaries and class sizes. Personally, I'm not prepared to do that until the Board [of Supervisors] tells me the situation is really that bad," he said.
Several board members said they had trouble finding cuts to make in Hatrick's budget, unlike last year, when the board sliced more than $9 million before sending it to the supervisors.
"You have to remember, Dr. Hatrick does not do this in a vacuum," said Harry F. Holsinger (Blue Ridge). "He knows what our priorities are. The superintendent's increase was much more conservative this year than last."
The budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment for all employees and step increases for those who qualify. Claire Scholz, president of the Loudoun Education Association, said teachers her organization represents had not expected more generous salary raises given the slow economy.
"I think they've done a yeoman's job of cutting without affecting services for children," Scholz said.
The board's cuts to Hatrick's budget included $124,000 from Foreign Language in Elementary Schools, which means students enrolled in the program will study Spanish once a week, rather than twice. Teachers in the program had recommended the change because they said they have incorporated Spanish into daily lesson plans anyway. The board maintained funding to expand the program to all elementary schools by next year.
The board also trimmed $301,170 from Hatrick's budget by cutting the number of new custodians the school system will hire.
At the same time, the board added $373,394 to Hatrick's budget, including about $177,000 for two more full-day kindergarten classes in Loudoun schools. He had already recommended expanding from this year's two classes to three next year.
They also added $181,210 to pay for new activity-bus runs at all county high schools that would take students home at 4:30 p.m., after dismissal but before the later bus used primarily by athletes. Andrews said he hoped that the new bus runs would encourage more students to participate in after-school activities, especially those whose parents work and cannot take them home from school.
The board also adopted a $107.6 million Capital Improvements Program, which calls for funding 14 new schools in the next five years. The plan also proposes renovations at Sully and Rolling Ridge elementary schools; Blue Ridge, Simpson, Seneca Ridge and Sterling middle schools; and Loudoun County High.