Hopeful for School Budget?

Hopeful for School Budget?

Supervisors keep quiet about plans for dealing with proposed $536 million schools operating budget for 2006.

Supervisors played their cards close to the vest about the 2006 budget for Loudoun County schools at a Feb. 9 Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents meeting.

The two supervisors in attendance, Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) and Vice Chairman Bruce Tulloch (R-Potomac), refrained from making any specific statements on Superintendent Edgar Hatrick's proposed $536 million operating budget, of which $414 million will come from local funds. Hatrick presented his budget to the School Board on Jan. 11.

After the supervisors receive the proposed total operating budget for the county from County Administrator Kirby Bowers, they will negotiate how much will go toward the schools. In the 2005 budget cycle, 74 percent of the budget went to schools. While supervisors decide how much money the school system will get, they do not decide how the money is distributed — that's the School Board's job.

Burton did say the proposed budget represented "less of an increase" than he expected. The 2005 schools operating budget was $461 million. Supervisors cut $7.2 million from the original proposed budget last year.

He was hopeful for a satisfactory final number for all parties.

"I doubt seriously we will rubber-stamp it," he said, "but I doubt it will be draconian."

Tulloch admitted last year's budget process, the first for five

first-term supervisors, was "pretty gruesome and pretty painful." And while he had "a commitment to public education," he also had a commitment to lowering taxes.

"I'm dedicated to dropping taxes this year," he said. "I think

anything but dropping taxes would be irresponsible."

Sterling resident Susan Klimek Buckley was "a little disappointed" that the supervisors refrained from specifically commenting on the budget. She has a child at Lowes Island Elementary and another in preschool. Still, she's optimistic.

"I'm going to take that as a good sign, since last year at this time they were very vocal," she said.

A MAJOR PART of the proposed budget involves teacher salary scales. Hatrick has designed the scale — which raises first year teachers with bachelor's degrees from $35,784 to $40,000 — in order to make Loudoun one of the most desirable places for high-quality staff. In order to accommodate the expected 3,500 new students next year, Hatrick expects to hire more than 800 new teachers.

"We know that in a very competitive marketplace, we need to be the most competitive if we are to find the best people," Hatrick said.

Personnel costs make up 87 percent of the entire proposed school budget.

"What we're trying to do is create a system where being a teacher is a career and a career they can support themselves on," said School Board Chairman John Andrews. "We want the best, we want the brightest."

Another critical part of the budget is capital improvements, said School Board member Robert DuPree (Dulles). Next year's 3,500 new students represent an entire school district in most Virginia counties. Over the next five years, the district will build 19 new schools. Five — two high schools and three elementary schools — will open this fall.

"If we fall behind, we're going to have a situation that's just

untenable," DuPree said.

Enrollment increases and opening new schools account for $40.4 million of the proposed budget.

TULLOCH was optimistic about the upcoming budget process.

"I fully believe that at the end of the day, the schools will get

the money they need to get the job done right," he said.

The total schools budget, including the capital budget, is $860.7 million.