Loudoun County School Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick III presented the School Board with a proposed $876.4 million budget for fiscal 2014 on Thursday, a plan that Hatrick said includes the costs of rising enrollment and the opening of two elementary schools but allows for no new programs.
The plan would increase current school spending by about $53 million but could nonetheless leave the public school system with a potentially substantial shortfall. In October, the Board of Supervisors directed County Administrator Tim Hemstreet to prepare a fiscal 2014 budget that would cut funding for schools as a way of lowering the county property tax rate by 3 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Those cuts would reduce the amount of county funds allocated to the schools by about $2.5 million, leaving Hatrick’s proposal with a possible funding gap of about $56 million.
Hatrick emphasized that the school system is operating with maximum efficiency and that the proposal keeps costs as low as possible while accounting for the addition of about 2,500 students next fall.
“We continue to experience more growth than any school system in the commonwealth,” Hatrick told School Board members.
With a projected enrollment of about 70,800 students next year, the plan represents the minimum needed to keep up with the growth, he said.
“I wish that this budget could be one of new initiatives and expansion, but the economy still does not allow for that kind of improvement and a growing student population,” he said. “We have only budgeted for those improvements that must be made.”
The proposed budget increases include funding for 333 new positions to accommodate student growth and the opening of Discovery and Moorefield Station elementary schools, as well as $8.2 million for technology improvements, $5.3 million for group health insurance and a $12 million “placeholder” for a possible 2 percent employee compensation increase. The school system is in the process of a salary study and will present a recommendation to the board in January, Hatrick said.
Hatrick told the board that the system’s fiscal efficiency was evident in the cost spent per student, which is projected to be $12,270 in fiscal 2014. That is less than the cost per student in most of Loudoun’s neighboring counties, Hatrick said.
Arlington County spends more than $18,500 per student, Alexandria more than $17,000, and Fairfax County about $13,500.
“There is a significant difference” in funding for Loudoun and other counties, Hatrick said. “I can safely say that [Loudoun public schools] will continue to be a good investment for our community”
The School Board will begin its review of the budget with a work session Thursday. The board is expected to adopt a budget late next month and present the fiscal plan to supervisors in early February.