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School Budget Finalized

After supervisors order $7 million cut, School Board members fight to lower class size, save junior varsity lacrosse.

The School Board debated into the night Tuesday how to absorb a $7 million cut to the fiscal year 2006 operating budget.

The School Board, after much discussion, reached a consensus as the hour crept to midnight on what funds to eliminate in order to reduce the budget to $529 million from the original $536 million presented to the Board of Supervisors.

The county requested the cut two weeks ago, which represents a cent on the tax rate, in order to get the real estate property tax rate to $1.04 per $100 assessed value.

Superintendent Edgar Hatrick recommended 11 cuts to meet the $7 million requirement. His largest recommendations included a 1 percent reduction salary scales to save $2.8 million, keeping high-school class sizes at the current level of 26.1 students per class rather than lowering it to 25.9, at a savings of $764,322 and reducing new hire salary by a total of $675,000.

School Board members jumped on the high-school class size funding cut first. Lowering class size has been a priority for the board.

"We proposed a small step, a small reduction in class size," said School Board member Robert DuPree (Dulles). "I hate to miss this opportunity."

Other members echoed DuPree's comments and supported his motion to reinstate the funding to reduce class size by one-fifth of a student this year.

BUT THAT was the only cut the School Board was able to save. Despite the public outcry over Hatrick's suggestion that the county cut junior varsity lacrosse to save $402,962, there was no room in the budget to save it.

Parents showed up with lacrosse stick-toting children in tow.

Loudoun Valley High School sophomore Chris Luck didn't make the varsity lacrosse team at his school.

"Because I did not make the team at my school, I feel I was left out," Luck said. "There was no JV team to be part of at my school."

Wes Haygood, president of Dominion Lacrosse, a lacrosse club, said that he collected 600 tickets at a recent girls lacrosse game.

"If you have to cut sport programs, I would think you would want to cut those that are not well attended, that not a lot of students participate in," Haygood said.

After several failed motions, School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) succeeded in earmarking $49,743 for junior varsity lacrosse by increasing fees for outside use of school facilities by 12 percent — but it wasn't enough.

"It's a failure on our part," Ohneiser said. "I don't like failure."

THE FOCUS of this year's budget was on salaries. Hatrick had proposed an ambitious salary scale that increased first-year teacher salaries from $35,784 to $40,000 a year.

The majority — 87 percent — of the school budget goes to personnel costs.

Under the proposed cuts, a first-year teacher with a bachelor's degree would make $39,600.

"This is the best we can do," said School Board member Warren Geurin (Sterling). "The supervisors have put us in a straight jacket."

Hatrick's other cuts are: 1 percent reduction in substitute, homebound, curriculum development, adult education, summer school, part-time and overtime pay rates to save $449,166; eliminate funds for purchase of online benefits enrollment system to save $200,000; reducing funding of worker's compensation by $300,000; 1 percent group health insurance reduction, $420,000; eliminate funding for contractual security patrols for night time and weekend, $250,000; textbook reduction, $538,550; reduce central office line items, $200,000.