What to Keep? To Cut?

What to Keep? To Cut?

School Board deliberates budget cuts from the Fiscal Year 2005 proposed operating budget.

Loudoun teacher Jennifer Owings showed up to the School Board budget work session Jan. 15 in her waitressing uniform to make a point.

Working a second part-time job to save up for a home loan, the single woman is counting on her raise next year — a 4.2 percent cost-of-living increase for teachers and staff and a step increase that is given to teachers based on years of experience and educational level. The teacher and staff salaries represent about 90 percent of the budget.

Owings asked the School Board to support superintendent of schools Edgar Hatrick’s proposed operating budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2005 and to recognize experienced teachers, who helped her as a new teacher answer her questions. "These experienced teachers help create and give meaning to a Climate for Success," she said.

"Please value us and what we do," said Cheryl Fuchs, a Loudoun teacher for the past 15 years. "This is a competitive field. … If our salaries are competitive, we can draw quality people too."

SCHOOL BOARD chairman John Andrews (Potomac) proposed that the School Board reduce Hatrick’s proposed cost-of-living increase from 4.2 to 2 percent to cut $4.86 million from the budget. The $482.48 million budget is $9.09 million less than Hatrick originally presented to the board, reduced with savings identified in the school district’s Group Life Insurance and Virginia Retirement System expenditures.

"I do think we have a responsibility to be fiscally conservative this year based on the discussions" we have had with the Board of Supervisors and the delegation, Andrews said at the School Board’s fifth budget work session.

"To be fair to our staff, we should stay at 4.2 percent," said Thomas Reed (At large), adding that the public schools does not want to become a "training ground" for Fairfax County.

Warren Geurin (Sterling) proposed a substitute motion to cut the salary increase to 3 percent instead of 2 percent, producing a savings of $2.65 million. "We’re talking about $4.8 million. I can find other savings," he said. "We eventually will have to make reductions in this budget. Maintaining class sizes and maintaining salary increases are the last places we want to go, not the first."

The School Board proposed a total of $12.14 million in budget cuts, deliberating over board members’ proposed amendments for seven hours until 1:30 a.m. Jan. 16. The board plans to continue deliberations next Thursday and has until Friday to submit the budget to the Board of Supervisors. The supervisors granted the board an extension from Jan. 14 to Jan. 23.

The board’s proposed budget cuts include:

* The 15-minute extended-day contract for elementary school teachers, $4.1 million.

* The hiring of 65 additional high school teachers, which will keep the high school class size at FY 2004 levels, $4.08 million.

* Night safety patrol, $499,200.

* Individual Education Plan software for special education eligibility, $500,000.

* Paid sabbatical leave, $250,000.

"It’s important to par back so we can gain credibility with the Board of Supervisors," said Mark Nuzzaco (Catoctin).

IN OTHER BUSINESS, the School Board:

* Approved the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for FY 2005-10, a six-year forecast to plan, finance and construct educational facilities.

The CIP is proposed at $845.25 million with the first year estimated at $217.35 million. The first year projects include construction of two elementary schools in Brambleton and Kirkpatrick Farms, a middle school in the Ashburn and Dulles area, and a high school in the western Loudoun area, along with renovations to six existing schools.

Reed proposed moving up the renovations of Rolling Ridge and Sugarland elementary schools from FY 2006 to FY 2005. "If the board had taken our word, these would be included in our CIP this year," he said.

Joseph Guzman (Sugarland Run) agreed. "I think parity among our schools is important," he said.

Andrews did not support Reed’s motion, although he agreed with the need for the renovations. "Eight renovations in one year … is biting off more than we can chew," he said.

Reed’s motion passed 8-1 with Andrews voting against. The board adopted the CIP as amended with a 9-0 vote.

* Approved the Capital Assets Replacement Program (CARP) for FY 2005-10 for $2.4 million.

The School Board will forward the CIP and CARP to the Board of Supervisors for final approval and adoption.

* Received at the Jan. 13 board meeting a report on the FY 2004 operating budget. As of June 30, 2004, the budget is expected to show a surplus of $1.25 million, including $750,000 more than projected for new employee salaries and savings of $128,000 in fringe costs and $375,000 in utilities.

Hatrick expects the School Board to add $6 million in previous surplus for a total of $7.2 million, as indicated by the Board of Supervisors. "We know every dollar we can save in this year’s budget can be used to balance next year’s budget," he said.