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School Board Cuts $14 Million from Proposal

Board members cut proposed operating budget down to $468.4 million to present to the Board of Supervisors.

Adding $1.85 million to their cuts, the School Board handed over a $468.43 million operating budget to the Board of Supervisors Friday that is nearly $14 million less than the superintendent’s proposed budget. After 5.5 hours of deliberation, the School Board unanimously supported the last of its cuts to the local transfer.

"That was the best we could do at midnight. There were several cuts I supported that didn’t get the majority," said Warren Geurin (Sterling), adding that he believes the final budget for Fiscal Year 2005 is more than the county can afford. He expects the School Board will have to make additional cuts after the Board of Supervisors adopts the budget and sets the tax rate on April 5. "I was expecting more in the way of cuts. We have five new members. It’s difficult for them to get their arms around a 300-page budget. … The School Board members were very cautious, more than I expected them to be."

THE SCHOOL BOARD approved a total of six cuts at the Jan. 22 work session. The largest cut — $750,000 — came from the reduction of 14 administrative positions from aligning position increases to enrollment growth, estimated to be 9.7 percent for fall 2005.

Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick pointed out that the school district has the lowest administrative costs in the area. "Nobody is growing like we are. … We’re trying to play catch-up with ourselves," he said, adding that what occurs in the central office will filter down to the classroom.

At the onset of the meeting, Thomas Reed (At large) reminded School Board members, "Our role is to educate children. If we remove items from here, they aren’t going to come back. We need to concentrate on educating children."

After deliberating 46 proposed budget cuts, some of which board members withdrew, the School Board approved the following:

* Limiting increases in training and continuing education to 25 percent, $438,200.

* Limiting expansion of the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program to the fourth grade, instead of to both grades 4 and 5, and delaying the addition of five schools to the program, $316,200. The program currently is offered for grades 1-3 at all but 17 schools.

* Adding the parent liaison program to 10 schools a year instead of to the 34 schools currently without the program and scheduled to open next year, $150,200.

* Postpone hiring a public information writer and television reporter/producer, $104,100.

* Eliminating one of two new positions in Library and Media Services, $94,300.

THE SCHOOL BOARD recommended several other cuts that did not receive approval, including several position and salary cuts and cuts to the primary and secondary strings instrument program. The board agreed to offer the program during the school day instead of as an after-school program.

"This program is long overdue in Loudoun County," Hatrick said, adding that at the secondary level, the program conflicts with high school activities.

The School Board approved another $12.07 million in cuts at the Jan. 15 work session, including:

* A 1-percent salary increase for all employees, $2.65 million.

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

* The hiring of 65 new high school teachers, maintaining instead of decreasing the class size from Fiscal Year (FY) 2004 levels, $4.08 million.

"The budget always leaves you with mixed feelings, because there were things that I would like to have done that we were not able to get done, but there were things we were able to accomplish," Reed said. "Of course, it’s always tempered by the fact we’re not through yet. We have to wait to see how it goes with the Board of Supervisors. I’m optimistic that with the cuts we’ve made that we will be able to get close to if not full funding of what we send over there."

ALSO, the School Board approved changes to the Capital Improvements Program (CIP) for FY 2005-10, a six-year forecast to plan, finance and construct educational facilities.

The board returned renovations of Rolling Ridge and Sugarland Run elementary schools to FY 2006 after moving them up from FY 2005 at the Jan. 15 budget work session. The board moved the renovation of Hillsboro Elementary School back a year from FY 2005 to FY 2006.

As a result, the CIP includes five instead of eight renovation projects for FY 2005, retaining the projects for Loudoun County High School and four middle schools. The CIP for FY 2005 includes 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.

"We moved everything back. It was a logistics issues," said Wayde Byard, school press officer for the Public Schools. "The feeling of the board was there were too many renovations going on at once."

Before the changes, the CIP was proposed at $845.25 million.