Fiscal cliff ahead for Loudoun schools

For the last five years,  enrollment in the Loudoun County Public Schools has grown by a whopping 25 percent.

The school budget has grown by only 11.6 percent — less than half of what was needed just to keep pace with the ever-increasing student population.

Last night the assistant superintendent for business and financial services, Leigh Burden, presented to the School Board the grim reality: the schools, he warned, will next year face “fiscal challenges not previously seen” if the all-Republican Board of Supervisors sticks with its arbitrary pronouncement that it wants to either hold the property tax rate flat in the coming year’s budget or reduce it by 2 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Basically, the flat option would leave the schools $69 million short; the 2 cent reduction would leave them $80 million short.

And, he basically said, don’t believe the baloney from Supervisor Shawn Williams (R-Broad Run) and others on the Board of Supervisors that the schools can close the gap simply by being more “efficient” and getting funding “down to the classroom.”

The schools will have to spend an extra $20 million next year just to hire the new teachers needed for the 2,375 additional students being added to the rolls. Operating the new schools built to accommodate the growing school population will add another $6.7 million. The school system is facing a non-negotiable increase of $11 million in what it will have to pay into the Virginia Retirement System, plus an $8.1 million increase in health care costs.

That doesn’t even count giving teachers a raise, something they haven’t had in five years.

And that’s even with by far the lowest per-pupil instructional cost ($11,638) of any comparable DC-area school districts, and the highest percentage of school employees (93.1 percent) based in the schools, versus administration and support.

A sensible policy, of course, would be to figure out what the schools need to operate and set tax rates accordingly. (A really sensible policy would have been to retain the slow-growth initiatives that were mocked, derided, blown up, and run roughshod over by previous Republican-controlled Boards, which declared them all to be infringements on our sacred “property rights”: that is, the “rights” of land speculators to sell off three-acre parcels and stick us with the bill). But this Board of Supervisors, eager to score political points with the right on cutting taxes, does it the other way around.

You can read the full statement from Assistant Superintendent Burden here (pdf file): FY15 Fiscal Challenges Memo

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