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Officials Address School Board Issue

School Board Voices Concerns for General Assembly

Loudoun County remains one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. With that said, the School Board asked members of the General Assembly to help them secure money to keep up with growth, at a legislative breakfast Thursday, Dec. 7, at the Administration Building in Ashburn.

Enrollment projections indicate that Loudoun County will add more than 16,400 students by the 2011-2012 school year. Based on that, Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) will have to open 19 new schools from now through 2012 to accommodate them.

School Board member Mark Nuzacco (Catoctin), chairman of the school's legislative policy committee, presented these facts to members of the General Assembly, with hopes to gain their support before they head to Richmond in a few weeks.

Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick presented a $712 million operating budget proposal to School Board members last week. The budget he presented, he said, would allow the LCPS to keep up with the number of students projected to enter the school system.

However, some School Board members are skeptical the Board of Supervisors would pass the budget as is.

"Growth overwhelms everything we do," Hatrick said.

LOUDOUN COUNTY is not only one of the fastest growing, but one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

In an effort to keep that money in the area during budget season, the School Board asked the General Assembly to adjust the composite index in response to the rapid growth the county will continue to experience.

The composite index is the formula the General Assembly uses to determine how much money each school division will receive from the state. The composite index depends on property values, income and sales tax receipts and the number of students enrolled in the schools, compared to the state's average.

"Because of our affluence, we understand we have responsibilities," Nuzacco said, "but at the same time we are growing rapidly. We need to retain some portion of the funds that would otherwise go elsewhere."

Del. Joe May (D-33) said he does not foresee any changes to the composite index this year. In order for a bill to pass, 51 delegates need to vote for it. Only 17 out of Virginia's 135 school divisions are located in Northern Virginia.

"Being the wealthiest county in the nation doesn't help us any," he said. "It's a tough sell."

The only way May foresees new legislation is if the House redistricts, which it is scheduled to do in 2010.

"We need to take care of our own house," Nuzacco said.

THE STUDENT population is not only growing in size, but it continues to become more and more diverse. The number of students with limited English proficiency is going up.

"We exceed all other counties in the state," School Board member J. Warren Geurin (Sterling) said.

He said the county needs money from the state to accommodate its English as a Second Language students.

SAFETY IS one of the School Board's top priorities. So, the School Board requested the General Assembly require the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to mark school bus stops on community streets.

Oftentimes during the winter season, snow plows pile snow against a corner of the street, forcing children to wait in the road for their bus to come, School Board member John Andrews (Potomac) said. Board members asked bus stops be marked to protect students from traffic.

"We just need a simple, cheap way to mark the bus stops," he said.

DEL. DAVID POISSON (D-33), a former professor and substitute teacher for Loudoun County Public Schools, brought up a concern from several of his constituents.

The delegate said he has received several letters from parents of children with autism, a brain disease that affects a child's communication and social interaction. He requested Hatrick set aside funds for students with autism.

Private placements and referrals can cost thousands of dollars, Poisson said, and it seems as though the school system has not been able to get a handle on it.

The superintendent said he is well aware of the high costs of private care. Chairman Robert F. DuPree said he thinks the issue should not only be addressed by educators, but members of the medical field and private businesses.