After the adoption of a county budget that left Loudoun County public schools facing a $16 million shortfall, School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III has outlined a list of recommended cuts to guide the School Board as it works to close the funding gap.
The School Board initially adopted an $859.7 million spending plan for fiscal 2014, which then came before the county Board of Supervisors for approval. But supervisors voted April 3 to allocate just $841.7 million in local funds to support the school system. Additional state revenue lowered the resulting shortfall to about $16 million.
The School Board asked Hatrick to provide a list of proposed reductions, with instructions to avoid layoffs or cuts that would directly affect class size. The School Board also asked that the budget maintain a $12 million placeholder to allow for a 2 percent salary increase for employees who receive a satisfactory evaluation.
With those guidelines in place, Hatrick submitted a list Friday that proposes numerous cuts, including the removal of more than 100 newly requested full-time positions. Those positions include 32 custodial staff members, 20 English language learner staff assistants, 10 full-day kindergarten teachers and 14 middle- school technology assistants. The cuts amount to more than $4.8 million in savings, Hatrick’s proposal says.
Hatrick also proposed a $4.5 million reduction in funds for materials, supplies and contractual services in all departments.
In other areas, including the money available for substitute teachers, funding will be held to its current level instead. Maintaining current levels of funding for substitute teachers will save the county $2.2 million, according to Hatrick.
“Staff will monitor closely the use of substitutes to ensure that the funding levels are not exceeded,” the document said. The cost of part-time and overtime pay will also be closely watched and will be covered “for only the most critical needs.”
Hatrick also identified a reduction of $1.1 million for fuel and maintenance costs. But those savings could be threatened if diesel or gasoline becomes more expensive. If fuel prices rise, “student transportation will be affected,” the superintendent’s proposal cautions.
In an accompanying letter to the School Board, Hatrick noted that the proposed reductions mean that the overall school system budget would increase by 2.5 percent over fiscal 2013, while student enrollment is projected to increase by 3.8 percent.
“Everyone in our school system, including students, will feel the impacts of many of these reductions, but we have made every effort to protect students to the greatest extent possible by limiting personnel increases to school-based positions only,” he wrote. “It is sad that our county is choosing to constrict your funding.”
Hatrick initially proposed a budget of $876.4 million in December. The School Board, heeding instructions from county supervisors to make deeper cuts and “find efficiencies,” reduced the spending plan by nearly $17 million before forwarding it to the county board.
Before the Board of Supervisor’s vote to adopt a fiscal 2014 budget, several supervisors expressed disappointment at the school system’s failure to identify additional cost-cutting. They encouraged the School Board to consider closing some of the county’s smaller schools or reducing the cost of retirement and benefit plans for current employees. Supervisors also voiced frustration at what they said was a lack of cooperation between the school administration and the county government reform commission.
The newly proposed reductions to the School Board’s budget will come as a disappointment to residents who urged county leaders not to subject schools to additional cuts. Advocates for the school system dominated several public hearings during the budget process.
But county supervisors frequently reminded residents that funding for the rapidly growing school system has increased steadily over the years. The final plan adopted by the board included $20.5 million in additional local funds for schools over the fiscal 2013 budget.
Still, many residents, public schools employees and School Board members maintained that the requested budget already represented the minimum amount needed to keep pace with the school system’s growth. Two new elementary schools will open in fiscal 2014, and more than 2,000 students will be added to classrooms across Loudoun.
Hatrick was scheduled to formally present the list to the School Board at its meeting Tuesday, after Local Living went to press. The School Board will have a work session to reconcile the budget at 6:30 p.m. Monday.