Still more school budget demagoguery

As predicted, your very fiscally prudent all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors — except when it comes to throwing away millions of tax dollars on pet GOP projects like handouts to sports teams, faith-based initiatives against Lyme disease, and road projects and tax breaks for major campaign contributors, that is — whacked $20 million out of the school budget on a 5–2 vote on Monday. This was after the almost all-Republican School Board had already whacked $25 million off of next year’s budget.

As noted here previously, the Loudoun County Public Schools — thanks to the pro-developer policies of previous Republican Boards of Supervisors — will be adding 2,500 students a year to the school population for the foreseeable future.

At the same time, the Loudoun school system has the lowest teacher salaries and the lowest administrative costs of any district in the Washington area. Per pupil costs in Loudoun are 40% less than Arlington County’s and 15% less than Fairfax County’s, and the administrative costs per pupil in Loudoun are a grand total of $235, also the lowest in the region.

But none of that has stopped the Supervisors from coming up with one ludicrous argument after another to justify their whacking the school budget:

• Chairman Scott York, as reported by his favorite tame “reporter,” Trevor Baratko of the Loudoun Times-Mirror “news”paper, explained to those of us who missed the fact that “we are now in the 21st century,” which he seemed to believe explained why “change has to happen,” and in particular why the schools’ budget needs to be cut. Alas, Trevor did not press him to elucidate that connection to the rest of us.

• Supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) offered his usual content-free tough talk, declaring, “I want the school staff to start working with us to find efficiencies in the system. And if they aren’t willing to do that, then we’re going to, with this motion, we’re essentially going to tell them: You’re going to have to find the efficiencies, because this is all you have to work with.” Of course, Buona didn’t offer a single real example of “efficiencies” he imagines can be conjured up while the school system is growing by 2,500 pupils a year and Loudoun already is spending far less per pupil than other area school districts.

• Deep Thinker Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian) offered perhaps the most creative argument — or perhaps the best argument for the urgent need to spend more on math education in our communities — averring that unless the property tax rate were cut by another .015 percent, thereby whacking the school budget by another $5 million, the crushing property tax burden would send her constituents spiraling into poverty: “This board has to look long and hard at the faces of some of those constituents that we will be hurting and people who may have to leave this community.” The fact that the further cuts Volpe was demanding to rescue her constituents from pain and exile would reduce the average property tax bill by a whopping $60 was apparently too trivial a point for her to mention.

• And the Logical Consistency Award, which usually is grabbed by Ken Reid (R-Leesburg) but he was absent for Monday’s meeting, went to Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles), who after making a motion for the shocking idea that the school budget needed to keep pace with the expanding number of students it serves, failed to receive a second on that motion, and so then promptly voted with the majority to  . . . whack the budget.

As a measure of how substance-free is Buona & Co’s political posturing and demagoguery about “waste” and “inefficiency,” the shortfall the school system has been left with is the equivalent of the entire administrative costs of the entire school system. Perhaps Businessman Ralph Buona would like to show some of the private sector business savvy he’s always boasting about and axe all of the supervisors and managers and executives from his own company and see how that works to promote “efficiency”?

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Chairman York gave an “exclusive” interview to the Loudoun Times-Mirror. We apologize for overestimating the initiative of our local media.

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