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School Board to Cut $5.4 Million

Hatrick compiles list of 24 items for reduction.

<bt>The Loudoun County School Board is scrambling to cut another $5.4 million from the budget to face a drop in state and county funding.

The Board of Supervisors cut $9.4 million from Superintendent Edgar Hatrick's proposed budget down to $355.6 million. Hatrick and a School Board member presented proposed budget reductions to accommodate the cuts, $6 million from the county and $2.1 million from the state. The reduction was bolstered with $393,000 from a federal title program and a $2.28 million reduction in Group Life Insurance.

"In the wealthiest county ... it's disturbing to me we have to go through this process at all," Hatrick said.

The budget the School Board has to work with is $347.9 million, as approved by the Board of Supervisors on April 1. The School Board met the next day to begin the reconciliation process.

"Looking at the size of the reduction that had to be made in comparison to the whole budget, I could not justify attacking or going after salaries, programs or positions in the budget. I tried to come up with a list that did as little harm as possible," said Hatrick about his list of 24 cuts that ranged from $1.1 million down to $38,000 in descending order of cost. Hatrick said the county's cut is a "small percentage of the whole budget."

HATRICK ANNOUNCED the elimination of the school greeter program at the last board meeting to cut $1.18 million from the budget and remove 47 positions from elementary and middle schools. The greeter program, implemented after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, posts substitute teachers, parents and part-time employees at the schools' main entrances to greet and direct visitors to where they need to go and provides security by checking identification. The program ends April 12.

The second reduction on Hatrick's list eliminates 14.8 full-time equivalent teaching positions, increasing the average class size from 25.9 students to 26.6 students and saving $756,000. The third reduction of $600,000 limits new teacher placement to 15 years of experience for the salary scale, which is based on experience and education. The remaining reductions include cuts to several district-wide accounts, delaying new staff positions and delaying and reducing new purchases.

Hatrick said the district will not spend the budget all at once and can come back later to determine if any funds are available to reinstate some of the cuts. "We're just putting some on hold," he said.

School Board member Warren Geurin (Sterling) presented a list of 13 cuts, including the elimination of the greeter program that Hatrick suggested, the block scheduling program at middle schools to save another $1.5 million and the elementary school foreign language program to save $606,800. Geurin recommended $1 million in cuts for additional central staff positions, a 2 percent reduction in the supplies and materials budget and reductions to several equipment purchases.

"The Board of Supervisors cut more than I would have," Geurin said. "These will be painful cuts, and I take no pleasure in suggesting them, but we have a responsibility to the supervisors, to the taxpayers and to the law to live within our means. ... I will focus cuts on programs that we can live without, staff positions we can live without, equipment we can live without and expenses we can live without."

"This list is reprehensible," said School Board member Patrick Chorpenning (Mercer). "I think your list is a non-starter. It's laughable."

"What's laughable is the supervisors authorizing debt to build a $60,000 high school we don't need in South Riding, while at the same time cutting our operating budget by $6 million," Geurin said. "Mr. Chorpenning should consider the hard choice. My question to him is what list does he have? What cuts would he make?"

TWO OF THE PROGRAMS Geurin suggested the School Board cut are new to the district. This year, the Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools (FLES) program placed eight teachers at 10 elementary schools to provide one hour of Spanish instruction a week. If continued, the FLES program, which was piloted for grades K-1, will be expanded to the second grade at the participating schools and include grades K-1 at an unidentified number of new schools. Five additional teachers will be hired for the program at a cost of $919,000. The program is expected to be fully implemented by the 2005-06 school year.

Geurin said the program cut may get public attention. "The public would not see it near as well as they will if some programs are cut," he said.

The block scheduling program, if approved, will be expanded next year to include six high schools and four middle schools. The program is currently offered at Eagle Ridge and Farmwell Station middle schools and at four high schools. The program requires the hiring of additional study hall monitors, since a class period will be added to the school day to offer the 90-minute blocks.

"My concern is we aren't being conservative enough," said School Board member John Andrews (Broad Run), adding that the district should plan for next year and build up its reserves. The budget is expected to increase by $86 million for fiscal year 2004, requiring a 20-cent increase to the property tax, he said. "Next year is going to be extremely difficult. Next year, do we even give our employees raises? Next year, the board will not vote a 20-cent tax increase," he said.

Hatrick said the increase will require another $68 million from the local transfer, which is $264 million. He preferred dealing with the 2004 budget at a later time and not speculating about it now, he said. "It is that none of us are able to project where we are going to be a year from now," he said.

The board will take action on the budget at the April 11 board meeting, rescheduled from Tuesday. If the board does not take a vote, the meeting will be recessed to April 13 at 8 a.m.