After three consecutive years of serious budget cuts and growing discontent from teachers, Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III has proposed asking the county for an additional $55 million to fund 3 percent employee raises, new teaching positions and technology purchases.
Like most school districts in Northern Virginia, Loudoun has seen its enrollment grow as its budget has been cut, forcing instructors to take on larger classes without yearly cost-of-living increases. That tension has been particularly pronounced in Loudoun, where teachers have organized to “work to the rule” — arriving just before classes begin and leaving as soon as the final bell rings for several weeks at a time. Teachers have also picketed in front of several schools, some holding signs that read, “We’re worth more.”
Hatrick’s $764.7 million budget proposal Wednesday, which will have to be approved by the school board before being presented to the Board of Supervisors, aims to satisfy those teachers, who have threatened to continue public protests if they aren’t given raises.
But Hatrick faces steep opposition from supervisors, who anticipate a budget with little flexibility for employee raises or for new teachers who would prevent class sizes from increasing.
“I’ll just say that I’m very concerned,” said Scott K. York, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “We have to keep in mind the affordability for taxpayers. . . .Teachers ought to be thankful they still have a job to go to. We cannot continue to increase and increase taxes in order to keep teachers happy.”
In Loudoun, like in Fairfax, supervisors say they would have trouble supporting raises for school system employees without also offering pay increases to other county employees. But doing both is unlikely to be financially viable, some supervisors say.
For his part, Hatrick is confident in the viability of his proposal. “I think it’s a very realistic proposal. We’ve lost over $80 million in county funding in last three years. What I’m asking is to restore $55 million, which would put county funding at the 2007-2008 level, when we had 12,000 fewer kids,” he said. “We’re starting to experience a recovery. We need to send a message to our employees that they are valued.”
The Loudoun Education Association, which represents many of the county’s teachers, found Hatrick’s proposal heartening. “We’re very pleased to see the 3 percent increase, and we were also glad to hear that there wouldn’t be increases in class size under the proposal,” said Sandy Sullivan, LEA’s president.
Sullivan said that in recent months, more Loudoun teachers have started considering leaving the profession for better salaries elsewhere. “We’re going to start losing employees because they know there are other places they can work where they’ll be better compensated.”
What is best for Loudoun teachers just might not be financially viable, said Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg), who, as a teacher and a county supervisor, is torn on the matter.
“As a teacher, I want the best for all Loudoun students and the best educational programs possible,” Burk said. “But as a supervisor, the job is no longer to look at programs. It’s always about the bottom line.”