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Votes

School Spending To Take Center Stage

The School Board will decide how much money to put into educational initiatives.

The fiscal year 2006 budget will take center stage in 2005 as the School Board focuses on educational basics and new initiatives to maintain a high quality of education.

Among the spending decisions will be whether to increase the starting salary for new teachers to $40,000 and change some of the step increases, which are connected to performance.

Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick has proposed the pay hike to compensate for the need to hire 700 to 900 new teachers for the 2005-2006 school year. Enrollment has been growing at a record rate, requiring new schools and teachers.

Hatrick said the increase would make Loudoun more competitive in attracting quality teachers to the school district. “This would place us among the top school systems in our region,” he said.

The salary proposal is part of Hatrick’s FY06 budget recommendation. Many board members already have come out in support of a full-funded spending plan.

Hatrick has recommended a $78.2 million increase or a $539.4 million FY06 operating budget compared to the current $461.2 million budget.

He has proposed:

* Reducing the average high-school class size from 26.1 to 25.9 percent.

* Adding math resource teachers for middle and high schools.

* Expanding elementary foreign language program to grade five in all elementary schools.

* Initiating junior varsity lacrosse.

* Providing patrols for nights and weekends at a cost of $300,000.

* Increasing mileage reimbursement from 32.5 cents to 37.5 cents.

* Buying new computers at 13 schools to replace outdated models at a cost of $1.9 million.

Some board members have warned against preparing a bare-bones 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.

In addition, board members have supported developing a budget that would reflect the new goals they adopted in the fall.

EDUCATORS WILL BE trying to bring all Loudoun County Public Schools in total compliance with No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Seven Loudoun County public schools have failed to make “adequate yearly progress” as defined by the federal law.

Seven out of 59 schools failed last school year compared to 10 out of 54 in 2002-2003. No Child Left Behind provides a snapshot of student achievement by separating the Standards of Learning test scores by ethnicity, limited English proficiency, low income, and special education. While recognizing the failure, top educators applauded the school district’s improvements. Eighty-nine percent of the schools passed, compared to 82 percent during the 2002-2003 school year. The goal is to have 100 percent pass by 2014.

The schools that did not make adequate yearly progress were Harmony Intermediate, Senecca Ridge and Sterling middle schools, Dominion, Heritage, Park View, and Potomac high schools.

“This is going to be a top issue,” said School Board Chairman John Andrews. “‘No Child Left Behind’ becomes more stringent every year. We need to work to get every school passing it.”

GROWTH IS ANOTHER key issue. Enrollment is expected to reach 47,467 students by FY06, up from 19,967 in FY96.

In the past, the School Board has relied on proffers to build schools, Andrews said. This past year, the members had to acquire sites by purchasing them or initiating condemnation proceedings, he said.

Board member Robert Dupree Jr. said he wants to ensure that school construction continues to be completed on time. “We need a lot of them in my district,” he said.

LOUDOUN COUNTY Public Schools will work toward closing the minority achievement gap.

Loudoun County Public Schools’ minority population and performance have climbed, but test scores still lag behind those of white students.

Dupree said it’s a problem that almost every school district faces. “We all are trying to close it. Even though we are making progress, we are still not there. It takes a lot of creativity.”

He maintained closing the gap is doable. “The sooner, the better,” he added. “The alternative is unacceptable.”

DOMINION High School will be working toward opening a science academy, thanks to a partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

HHMI pledged $1 million per year in support of Loudoun’s schools. In addition to the commitment to the science academy, the institute has spent $300,000 on training and equipping middle-school science teachers. The training program is expected to become a model for middle school teachers nationwide.

The medical institute also provided $98,000 in scholarships to 14 members of the Class of 2004.

HHMI is the nation’s largest non-profit funding organization of science education programs.