When the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors adopted a budget for fiscal 2018 on April 4, it handed the school board the task of trimming its expenditures by $5.5 million.
On Monday, the school board completed the budget reconciliation process by approving a list of reductions recommended by Schools Superintendent Eric Williams. That list avoided cuts to the school board’s key initiatives, such as expanding full-day kindergarten, boosting employee salaries and buying new school buses.
When Williams presented his proposal to the school board April 18, he said that $1.25 million for a one-week pay supplement for school employees was no longer needed, and that the summer school budget could be reduced by $150,000 without affecting the level of services.
The package also cut funding for part-time aides for school board members. Most of the remaining items on the reduction list were one-time expenses that could be funded using unspent money at the end of the fiscal year, Williams said.
Although the school board last week approved the package unanimously, with Joy Maloney (Broad Run) absent, the reconciliation process began with a turbulent meeting April 6.
A suggestion that two small schools in western Loudoun be closed to save money led to a testy discussion, and Vice Chairman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) complained that some supervisors showed a lack of respect for the school board during the budget review process.
School board member Tom Marshall (Leesburg) raised the possibility of closing Lincoln and Hamilton elementary schools to save $1.15 million.
“I think it’s prudent for the school board, when it’s facing a $5.5 million reduction, to consider this,” Eric Hornberger (Ashburn) said, adding that the two schools could be consolidated with Kenneth W. Culbert Elementary in Hamilton.
Eric DeKenipp (Catoctin) said it made “absolutely no sense” to close the schools when a new school would be needed soon to alleviate overcrowding in Leesburg.
“Keep in mind, just six miles away we have schools bursting at the seams, over capacity,” DeKenipp said.
Beth Huck (At Large) questioned bringing up the closure of the small schools “every single time we need to cut money from our budget.”
“It’s not fair to this community and the students that go to the school to be worried year after year if we’re going to close their schools,” Huck said. “So if we want to consider it, let’s do it the right way and not rush it in a 10-day period.”
Chairman Jeff Morse (Dulles) said keeping the schools open might enable the board to delay building a new elementary school for a year or two.
Hornberger’s motion to schedule a public hearing on closing the schools failed by a 4-to-5 vote, with Maloney and Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge) joining DeKenipp, Huck and Morse in opposition.
After the vote, Sheridan expressed frustration with some of the supervisors’ comments “comparing this board of elected officials to teenagers — last year it was about car keys and this year it was about allowance,” she said.
“The lack of trust that seems to come across in their comments — it’s irritating,” Sheridan said. “I don’t think we can demand it, but I do think we’ve earned respect [as] an elected board that works very hard to be fair [and] transparent.”
Supervisor Ron A. Meyer (R-Broad Run) said that the reconciliation process “proves that it’s probably healthy for the schools to look at reductions to their request.”
“Despite all of the scare tactics and dramatic comments from the school board and from different special interest groups, our tax reduction did nothing to harm teacher salary increases, or full-day kindergarten, or new buses, or any other major new initiative that our schools needed,” Meyer said in an interview.
Responding to Sheridan’s remarks, Meyer said the supervisors scrutinize the county side of the budget much more closely than the school board does.
“If they went through that [degree] of scrutiny, I think the Board of Supervisors would have a higher regard for the school board’s respect for how we use taxpayer dollars,” Meyer said.
But Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) agreed with Sheridan.
“Making disrespectful, demeaning comments is . . . unhelpful,” she said in an email. “In addition, it’s a poor example to set for our students.”