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Ohneiser Wants More for Ashburn

School Board member complains about high per-pupil costs in western Loudoun.

The per-pupil cost at Middleburg Elementary School is more than three times higher than that of Hillside Elementary in Ashburn.

The cost at Middleburg, with 69 students, is $16,828 per pupil compared to $4,854 at Hillside, with 793 students.

Wayde Byard, spokesman for Loudoun County Public Schools, cautioned that the figures only take into account the cost of teacher salaries and fringe benefits. To determine the actual costs per student, one would have to factor in the operating expenses and debt service. The school district provided only data pertaining to salaries and benefits.

School Board member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) is using the high costs in the western part of Loudoun County to push for “special services” for Ashburn schools in eastern Loudoun.

“There is no way it is justified to spend $17,000 to educate a student in Middleburg and $5,100 in Ashburn. That’s not a fair allocation of resources in the county,” he said. “You have an extremely low class size that is extremely inefficient and preferential. Let’s have a little more balance here.”

HE COMPLAINED that his recommendations to customize Ashburn’s bus routes and to add Russian, Mandarin and Arabic to Ashburn’s school language programs have been turned down. Board members and administrators have argued that providing those amenities would be costly, particularly because the same would have to be offered to all Loudoun schools, he said.

“We need to acknowledge that some parts of the school system are treated like private schools … If we are efficient, why can’t we improve what we have?”

Ohneiser wants the school buses to drop children off at after-school day care centers to help single mothers and families with two working parents. He said the move would not cost anything, because the buses go past these facilities now.

Priscilla Godfrey (Blue Ridge) said last week that the new Health, Safety and Wellness Committee has discussed the day-care proposal.

“There are legal ramifications and insurance questions. There’s the fact that not all of the child-care facilities are located in the boundaries of that particular school. It’s a lot more complicated than it appears.”

SHE SAID IT is “unrealistic” to compare the per-pupil costs of small schools in her district compared to large schools. “There are fewer students to offset the cost of teaching,” she said. “And the teachers at the small schools are some of our more experienced teachers, because they stay there from year to year. The larger schools in the Ashburn area are getting some younger faculty that don’t make as much as the experienced faculty.

“We as a school system don’t rearrange our staff to make them all come out equal. Nor should we,” she said.

Ohneiser said the a fair pay scale should be applied for teachers. “not one where a young teacher with 28 children in a class earns $40,000 in Ashburn and a veteran with eight children in a class earns $88,000 in Middleburg,” he said.

School Board member J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) agreed with Godfrey. “It doesn’t make sense to claim fair or unfair based upon per pupil spending,” he said. “Unless or until every school is the same size and every community is the same size and every school has the same demographics as every other school, then the word ‘fair’ just simply doesn’t apply,” he said.

The differences between all the schools really can vary when operating costs are added to the formula, he said. For example, one school might offer all-day kindergarten for children from several area schools. The operating and teaching costs would be higher at that school.

A school with a high percent of at-risk, minority and low-income students would have higher operating costs than one that does not, he said.

OHNEISER SAID he wanted to make it clear that he did not want to take anything from Middleburg and other western schools with high per-pupil costs. But considering the economics, the School Board might want to consider merging some of them instead of spending more money on renovations, he said.

Godfrey disagreed. “There is no way a renovation, even one for $500,000, could match what it would cost to buy property and put a new school in place.”

She also said if the county decided to merge the three smallest schools, Banneker, Aldie and Middleburg, there is not one school among them with room enough to accommodate the other two.

Geurin objected to the possibility, saying a merger would change the nature of the neighborhood schools and would generate long commutes for the schoolchildren. “I would oppose any plan to close western community schools in the name of fairness,” he said.