0
Votes

Board Adjusts Hatrick's Budget

Superintendent proposes $78.2 million increase.

The School Board made several changes in the proposed FY06 budget, but it appeared by the Connection’s deadline that the members would not finalize it Tuesday night.

They are expected to make additional changes and approve it Thursday night.

By 10 p.m., the board had cut $1.5 million from Superintendent of Schools Edgar Hatrick’s proposed spending plan. Members discussed increasing lunch prices, cutting proposed teacher salary increases, raising classified employees pay, raising the cost of summer school and making other changes.

Hatrick recommended a $78.2 million increase in school spending, or a $539.4 million FY06 proposed operating budget compared to the current $461.2 million budget.

He called on the School Board to restructure the teacher’s salary scale, increasing the starting salary from $35,784 to $40,000. To compensate for the pay hike, he suggested a reduction in some of the step increases.

The average improvement to the teachers, administrators, classified and auxiliary scale would be 4.7 percent based on the cost of living increase and market adjustment. The proposal also would provide step increases for satisfactory performance ranging from a low of 2.5 percent for administrators to a high of 4 percent for teachers. The board had not voted on the increase by 10 p.m.

THE BOARD APPROVED a 15 cents a day or 75 cents a week increase in school lunches in a 5 to 4 vote. Mark Nuzzaco (Catoctin) initially recommended a 30 cents increase. He withdrew the motion, however, in support of Vice Chairman Thomas Reed’s 15 cents suggestion, at a savings of $368,980.

J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) objected. “The idea that we would try to balance our budget by charging these students in these schools more for lunch is beyond me,” he said. He predicted fewer students would buy lunch if the price increased.

Joseph Guzman (Sugarland) also opposed the increase. “I cannot support raising the lunch prices when we have luxury items all over this budget,” he said.

Hatrick said the increase would affect reduced lunch prices, which are based on a sliding scale.

Geurin, Guzman, Priscilla Godfrey (Blue Ridge) and Sarah Smith (Leesburg) voted against the increase. Elementary school lunches currently cost $1.75 and secondary school lunches cost $1.85.

Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) tried, but failed, to persuade the board to increase the lunches to $2 and allow students to get additional fruit and vegetables at no extra cost.

AT THE ONSET of the board meeting Tuesday, Chairman John Andrews cautioned that the budget still needs the Board of Supervisors’ approval. He said he was aware of at least two board members who would seek additional cuts. “No matter what we do this evening, there is still work ahead of us,” he said.

He said Hatrick presented a conservative budget. “His focus was making us a leader with salaries,” Andrews said. “He realized he couldn’t do a bunch of ‘add-ons’ on top of that. I honestly think he thought outside the box by restructuring the scale.”

Attracting quality teachers is the number one goal in providing students with an excellent education, he said. “We’ll be near the top of the salary scales in Northern Virginia.”

The board made reductions in fuel allotment and Personnel Services spending.

Andrews suggested reducing the fuel allotment by $623,625, estimating the fuel costs at $2 per gallon instead of $2.50 per gallon. The board approved the change.

Guzman recommended a $60,000 savings by reducing the advertising budget for Personnel Services. Reed made a substitute amendment for a $30,000 reduction, which received board approval. The Personnel Services Department uses a variety of ways to advertise for teachers, administrators and classified employees. It has to hire 700 to 900 new teachers next year, because of a continuing surge in student enrollment. Loudoun is the fastest growing county in the country.

BEFORE THE MEETING, Andrews said he would call for a minimum of $4.2 million in adjustments:

* Setting the estimated increase in insurance costs at 10 percent instead of 15 percent, saving $2 million.

* Changing the amount of anticipated state aid to education, increasing it by $1.7 million.

* Reducing the end of year reserves from $1 million to $0.5 million.

“There are not a lot of new initiatives in this budget. It comes down to the salary increase, which at this point, I’m more on board with than before,” he said.

Next year’s budget is likely to reflect the board’s new goals, he added. The staff brought proposals to the superintendent before the goals were adopted. “I think the superintendent already was working on a rough draft.”

Andrews said he would like to see more reductions in classroom size in future budgets. “The problem is … we don’t have a lot of space,” he said. “Do we have the extra one or two extra classrooms? The answer is ‘No’ in some areas.”

He said schools in eastern Loudoun have the space, but those in Dulles South, Ashburn and Loudoun Valley High School lack it. Construction of new schools will remedy the problem, he said.

With modest salary increases next year, the School Board can focus on reducing class size, he said.

The Loudoun Education Association had asked the board to fund paid vacation for classified staff.

Andrews said he could not support providing vacation pay for classified staff, because it would cost $5.5 million. “They are getting a 7.7 percent increase in pay,” he said. “They are getting a good pay increase. You can’t do it all.”

PRIOR TO THE MEETING, Geurin said he would recommend funding six paid holidays on a 12-month cycle and five paid holidays on a 10-month cycle, at a cost of $1.9 million.

He also suggested a 2 percent increase in the pay scale of classified employees at a cost of $1.2 million. If that amendment failed, he planned to increase the classified pay scale by 1 percent at a cost $600,000.

“We really need to improve retention of qualified support staff. We are in a market where there are a lot of jobs and we need to compete … with the private sector for custodians, bus drivers, secretaries, positions that are not necessarily entry level, but do not require a Ph.D.”

Guzman said he would support a $2,000 bonus for new teachers rather than an increase to $40,000. “It’s a much better incentive,” he said. Otherwise, the new teachers would receive almost no raise for their first four years of service.

Geurin said he would propose eliminating the foreign language program in elementary schools at a savings of $2.5 million. “I don’t see much evidence to support its continuation,” he said. “We are not preparing them to take Spanish in middle or high school. … It takes too much time away from reading, writing, mathematics, English, and political science.”

Guzman said he would oppose any move to eliminate the program. He said the enrichment classes are generating higher performance in other subjects.

Geurin, however, said he would ask the board to postpone expanding the foreign language program to 5th grade, at a savings of $580,000, if his first motion failed. “I would like to see a thorough review of the program before we expand it any further.”

Geurin said he proposed eliminating the addition of an instructional specialist for the Office of Library and Media Services, at a cost savings of $96,000, including benefits. The library staffing in middle and high schools was reduced in last year’s budget, he said.

“None of us on the School Board is trying to be a skinflint,” he said. “Just because we’re fairly certain we can afford some of these things and because we are somewhat reassured the supervisors will fund the budget, doesn’t mean we have to act like every dime in here is absolutely necessarily.”

SEVERAL PROPOSALS failed, including:

* Godfrey called for a $125,000 cut in the Worker’s Compensation contingency fund. Assistant Superintendent for Business and Financial Services Sue Hurd, however, recommended against the move, because the board made a significant decrease last year. She said she has started using some of the reserves this year.

* Ohneiser recommended making summer school self funding at a savings of $1.1 million. Later in the evening, Nuzzaco recommended increasing summer school tuition for elementary school from $250 to $300 and secondary school from $290 to $325 providing an additional $65,100 in revenue. Ohneiser supported the idea, because the Summer in the Arts program is self-funded.

Sharon Ackerman, assistant superintendent of instruction, said there is a big difference between the two programs. The state requires remedial assistance to the neediest students. Summer school meets that obligation. Summer in the Arts is an enrichment program. Nuzzaco withdrew his proposal.

* Ohneiser recommended eliminating all medical copays by reducing the proposed salary increase. The cost savings would be neutral, he said.

* Guzman recommended reducing the pay scale increase from 4.7 percent to 4 percent.

Prior to the meeting, Ohneiser said he would recommend removing the school district’s “roving security staff,” at a savings of $250,000. Rather than having security guards drive by to check school doors, the district could employ custodians on the night shift, he said.

He also planned to suggest making adult education self-funding, including the direct and indirect costs associated with providing the service.

Ohnesier said he would object to increasing the mileage reimbursement line item for the school board, which is 27 percent higher than FY04. The budget increase proposal would move from $344 to $9,317. “Most of the people on the School Board don’t utilize that option,” he said.