About 500 people, including large numbers of teachers and parents, turned out last night to urge the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to avoid cutting services in seeking to make up an expected $32 million deficit.
The most vocal of those who attended a public hearing in Leesburg were about 150 teachers and their supporters who carried signs and flashlights to protest a proposed salary freeze and possible cuts of $11.7 million to the school budget.
"Any program that affects the current classroom teaching level should be retained at all costs," said Templar Titus, a parent of a Loudoun County High School student. "To eliminate or dilute programs . . . would drastically affect the quality we need to keep our kids at the forefront."
Others asked the board to spare county-funded programs for the elderly, the mentally retarded, the Victim Witness Office and other social services.
Loudoun faces its largest budget cut ever in the spending plan that will take effect July 1. The current budget is about $273 million. Officials, citing a sharp drop in local tax revenue, have forecast a shortfall of about $32 million.
The supervisors have asked the school system and county administrators to each come up with plans for $12 million in cuts. The school system's $11.7 million list of possible reductions includes cuts in art, music and physical education classes; programs for gifted and talented children; and 51 teaching slots.
State aid to Loudoun schools is expected to drop from $19.8 million to about $17.2 million. Because of the state and local cuts, officials say, the school budget next year could be smaller than the current one.
The School Board is to adopt a budget Feb. 26 and submit it to the supervisors for inclusion in the county budget to be adopted in early May.
Several speakers at last night's hearing at J.L. Simpson Middle School in Leesburg suggested raising taxes to maintain services.
"The vast majority of the citizens in this audience this evening are not saying, 'Don't raise taxes in an election year,' " said Kay Franklin, president of the Loudoun Education Association, which represents about 800 teachers. "They're saying, 'Don't cut services.' "