Bracing for Battle

Bracing for Battle

School Board already pondering budget expenses for next year.

he School Board may be months away from setting a new budget, but the task remains pervasive.

Last year’s budget-cutting process is anything but a distant memory. Talk of developing the next budget surfaces every time the board meets.

In the most recent meeting, two members warned against preparing a barebones budget, in light of cuts they had to make in the FY05 spending plan. The board first eliminated $23 million in funding only to have the Board of Supervisors mandate another $12 million in cuts. In the end, an unexpected $6.8 million windfall from the General Assembly lowered the required budget reduction to $5.2 million. The School Board approved a $461,233,715 budget, an increase of 18.2 percent over the FY04 budget.

The head of the teachers union expressed similar funding concerns during the board meeting Sept. 28.

Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) said the board already is facing the prospect of increasing the budget by an additional $50,000 to $70,000 after providing a 5 percent raise to the current staff and hiring an estimated 1,000 new teachers. “We are growing,” he said. “I’m really concerned that, as a county, we’re really not yet understanding the effects of the school system after the residential projects are approved.”

HE CAUTIONED planners to be realistic about proffers. “We need a little more than a little land to justify the development,” he said. Developers provide amenities, land, buildings and money — known as proffers — when they are seeking to rezone land.

Ohneiser said the School Board’s newly adopted goals also carry a price tag. The members recently approved goals to help in establishing budget priorities. They added new initiatives, going beyond the objectives established by prior boards.

He pointed to “underfunded realities,” such as legislative state mandates that are underfunded or unfunded. The board needs to find a balance between a tight-fisted budget and an overly generous one. “When we go through the budget we should be creative and understanding … but efficiency is required under the law.”

Tom Reed (Leesburg) said he shared some of the same concerns. He opposed establishing a biennial year budget, which he said has been contemplated by the Board of Supervisors. The problem is that officials end up moving out projects that they cannot afford in the first year, he said.

Mac Corwine, president of the Loudoun Education Association, told the board its job is monumental, with the additional costs of operating two new high schools, adding bus routes and possibly more buses, and meeting state and federal requirements. “There are the ever-increasing demands of the public to include more programs,” he added. “The list goes on and on.”

He asked the School Board to remember its job is not to submit a barebones budget, but to ask for funds to “provide a ‘climate of success,’ that will provide quality education to the students of Loudoun County.”