Committee Questions CIP, Budget

Committee Questions CIP, Budget

When the public schools added HS-3 to the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) for a Purcellville area high school, Supervisor James Burton (I-Mercer) had his concerns.

"We can't see the need for another school," said Burton at the Feb. 27 joint meeting between the county and school system's finance committees. He called the meeting to see the school district's attendance numbers and projections for the projects added to the CIP list.

In January, the School Board adopted the CIP for Fiscal Years (FY) 2004-08, forwarding the document to the Board of Supervisors for approval later this month. The School Board increased the CIP from $245.6 million, as adopted last year, to a $520.2 million request. The increase covers the costs of the new high school, seven school renovation projects and ball field lighting upgrades at four high schools.

"Most of us were surprised to see the differences between the proposal and what passed last year," said Burton, chairman of the Finance and Government Services Committee.

Superintendent Edgar Hatrick said the Purcellville high school will accommodate ninth grade students who will be moved out of Harmony Intermediate School in Leesburg when the school is converted into a middle school. The school also could serve students who live in western Loudoun and now are being bused to Loudoun Valley High School, a staff member said.

Supervisor Charles Harris (D-Broad Run) asked why the renovation projects were added to the CIP and not included in last year's CIP, saying he was "shocked" to see the additional projects. "It feels hit and miss. I want to see projects move forward year by year."

In answer, School Board member Candyce Cassell (Sugarland Run) said the middle school renovation projects stem from security issues. "The architectural plan of those schools makes it impossible for office staff to monitor the halls," said Cassell, chairperson of the Finance, Construction and Site Acquisition Committee. Blue Ridge, Seneca Ridge, Simpson and Sterling middle schools currently use television monitors to provide school security, she said.

"There's a lot of work that needs to be done on these schools that hasn't ever been budgeted," said Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York (R-At large).

AT THE SAME meeting, School Board Chairman Joseph Vogric (Dulles) presented information on the school district's proposed operating budget for FY-04. At $400.2 million, the budget exceeds the county's target by $19 million.

"We worked hard to keep our budget request down to a minimum," Vogric said, adding that the school system uses zero based budgeting by starting at a zero budget each year and looking at it line by line through each step of the process. "The budget is pretty well scrubbed. We're not foolish. We understand the situation the county is in. We understand the situation the Commonwealth is in."

Ninety-three percent of the proposed budget maintains the same services for a growing student population and provides for salary compensation, Vogric said.

"You all understand the financial situation we are in," Burton said, adding that for two years, the current Board of Supervisors fully funded the School Board's budget requests. "You get an adequate level of funding to produce a good school system."

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on the CIP and budget on March 31.