For the first time in 11 years, the Loudoun County school system will open no new schools next fall, yet Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III told the School Board on Tuesday that educating the county's children will cost almost 20 percent more next year anyhow.
Hatrick's recommended budget, unveiled to the nine-member board Tuesday night, outlined school spending totaling $632 million. That's up 19.5 percent from the $529 million taxpayers are spending to educate the county's 47,361 students this year.
According to Hatrick, much of the increase in cost is still attributable to the frenetic growth in enrollment that has made Loudoun one of the fastest-growing school systems in the country. The district has opened three to five schools annually over the past decade. Plans to open several schools this year have been delayed because the system has had trouble finding sites.
"We'll still hire more teachers. We'll open more classrooms. We'll need more buses, more bus drivers and more bus routes," Hatrick said in an interview. "That will be the theme of our budget for probably decades to come. There's just no end in sight."
At the same time, Hatrick recommended a major salary boost for school employees, arguing that they need to be paid more to be able to live in a county with rising home prices. In all, he suggested devoting $26.2 million to salary increases.
Under his proposal, the starting salary for a new teacher in Loudoun would be increased from $39,600 to $43,000 in an effort to recruit top candidates new to the profession.
Hatrick also suggested boosting the rest of the salary scale for teachers by 5 percent and giving all teachers a 3.5 percent cost-of-living increase. When these improvements are added to annual salary increases that are based on experience, many teachers would receive total raises of 11.7 percent. Other employees, from custodians to administrators, would receive raises of about 5 percent to 8 percent.
Last year, teachers received, on average, a 7.2 percent raise.
"Even though we made a significant raise in the teacher salary scale last year, the fact of the matter is the cost of living in Loudoun County is outstripping everything we've been able to do with salaries," Hatrick said in the interview.
He elaborated on that point before the School Board, citing statistics from 1967 showing that the average salary for a Loudoun teacher was $5,500 and that a townhouse sold for about $15,000. Today, Hatrick noted, a local townhouse sells for, on average, not three times a teacher's salary but seven times.
"The cost of living is driving teachers out of the county," the superintendent told board members. "If we care about having our employees live in our communities, and I think we do, we have to address this business of purchasing power."
Board Chairman John A. Andrews II (Potomac) told Hatrick: "Salary increases are a little higher than I would have expected this year. Is that in anticipation of when so much of the pie is going to be eaten up by opening up six new schools?"
Hatrick replied, "We tried to balance out increases in salary in a year that we have less costs associated with other things."
Hatrick suggested few changes to the instructional program. He recommended introducing Spanish in sixth grade, filling a gap between the foreign language program now offered in grades 1 to 5 and the start of formal language training in seventh grade.
Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) told Hatrick he was disappointed not to see different foreign languages offered. "There's more to life than just Spanish," he said.
He also asked the School Board to devote $951,000 to establishing a junior varsity lacrosse program. The sport at the varsity level has a core of dedicated supporters pushing for its expansion, but they have been told each year that there is no money.
Hatrick did not suggest trimming class sizes, an issue often at the top of the board's priority list. Nor did he include money for other programs that individual board members have recommended recently, such as new language offerings for high school students or new specialized academies.
"This is an honest representation of what I think we need to run schools next year," he said.
The board will spend this month analyzing the document in detail before adopting a budget in January. The budget then will be submitted for approval to the Board of Supervisors.