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School Board Delays Cuts

So much depends on state budget.

The School Board has postponed making $12 million in budget cuts until the state legislature approves a spending plan.

Chairman John Andrews said the board members could probably agree on $5 million to $7 million in cuts, but it would be very tough to make the remaining reductions. "That's when it really starts coming down to the hard choices or the philosophical differences of the board," he said. The School Board should wait until it knows exactly how much it needs to cut, he said.

There is a possibility that the legislature will pass a budget that provides $700,000 to $7 million in educational aide to the county, he said.

The Board of Supervisors has set the real estate tax rate at $1.075 per $100 in assessed value for Fiscal Year 2005. The tax rate is slightly lower than the current rate of $1.11. But taxes will be higher because of rising property values, with residences showing a 12 percent increase this year. The supervisors held final approval of the budget pending adoption of the state budget.

THE SCHOOL BOARD on Tuesday night defended its actions during the four-month budget process and discussed reductions.

Sarah Smith (Leesburg) said her peers should not target cuts in districts represented by supervisors who were vocal about wanting to make deep reductions in spending. All students should be treated evenly, she said.

Joseph Guzman (Sugarland) agreed. "We still need the cooperation of that board," he said.

Andrews credited the supervisors with giving the schools an extra $3 million.

J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) objected to three proposals on the School Board's list of possible cuts: to drastically raise classroom size, to cut the computer refresh program and to remove 11 reading teachers and 14 classroom teachers from seven schools. He represents five of those schools, which have some of the system's "most vulnerable" students. He provided statistics:

* Sully Elementary School has the highest minority population percentage of all elementary schools in the county - 69.10 percent and the second highest low income population - 31.74 percent.

* Guilford Elementary has the highest English as a Second Language population - 24.80 percent.

* Rolling Ridge Elementary has the third highest minority elementary population - 57.18 percent.

* Forest Grove Elementary has the fifth highest elementary minority population - 45.05 percent.

* Sterling Elementary has the third highest ESL population - 16.18 percent.

"So, when folks say to me don't cut sports or don't cut coaching stipends, I get a little concerned about our priorities as a school system," he said. "I do not really believe that this School Board will actually make some of these cuts, and I make no criticism of anyone for suggesting any cut."

BOB OHNEISER (Broad Run) said he opposed "shredding" computer programs. "Especially in Loudoun County, this is the Internet capital of the world," he said. He favored:

* Eliminating athletic trainers.

* Eliminating either the athletic director level or the assistant athletic director level.

* Charge the Parks and Recreation Department $25 an hour to use the school gyms to raise $4 million.

* Charge for the use of the school athletic fields.

Guzman said the school board should not cut enrichment programs. "This is the chance we give them to fall in love with certain topics," he said. He also supported funding for lacrosse and foreign language classes.

Mark Nuzzaco (Catoctin) defended the board putting together a list of possible cuts that resulted in parents and educators sending thousands of e-mails in protest. He denied they were "scare tactics." He said he supports reductions that will not harm Loudoun's quality of education.

In other business, Smith recommended the board adopt a policy requiring its members to adjourn earlier than 1:30 a.m. She said she is older than the other members and she had to work the next day when they recently met that late. "It was very hard for me," she said. "I question our productivity. … I don't think it's good for any of us."

Reed said the board has a policy that allows the members to vote at 10 p.m. whether to stay later than 11 p.m., but they have not taken advantage of it. Andrews said the board would vote next time.

Geurin suggested Smith submit a letter requesting a change in the policy to the Legislative Policy Committee.