Loudoun County, Va. (January 30, 2015) – Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) Superintendent Dr. Eric Williams presented his Proposed Fiscal Year 2016 Budget to the Loudoun Education Alliance of Parents (LEAP) on January 14.
Williams started the meeting, held at the LCPS Administrative Offices in Ashburn, by sharing his philosophy about constructing the proposed budget.
“I’ve seen some boards, superintendents and communities approach a budget as ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve got such a difficult situation; let’s just try to minimize the damage.’ That’s clearly not the right attitude. We need to continue to have high expectations for ourselves in terms of what’s going to allow us to take it to the next level. That’s a success mentality.”
Williams said he asked himself one question when deciding what went into the budget. “What do we want our students to know and be able to do in order to be successful in the 21st century?”
The proposed budget is $980.9 million, $68.9 million more than the current budget ($912 million). The additional funds reflect needs created by growth and changing demographics, a few enhancements, restoration of personnel lost in past budgets and reallocation of some funds and positions.
“We’re not just trying to rest on our laurels. We’re trying to take it to the next level. You’ll see examples of (the fact) we’re not just asking for a blank check. We’re thinking strategically. How might we take existing resources, and is there a bigger bang for the buck? There may be some things that are very valuable, things that yield benefit, but would we get an even bigger bang for our buck if we were spending that in a different way? Are there some opportunities for increased efficiencies? …
“We are making reductions; eliminating positions, eliminating certain expenditures in order to offset those new expenses.”
A new feature in Williams’ budget is a class size contingency. It allots 10 teachers each in four categories (elementary school, middle school, high school and special education) to accommodate enrollment variations and maintain class sizes. (The cost of this budget item is $1.1 million.)
“By articulating the staffing standards, we’re trying to take the mystery out of this process… If we accept the staffing standards that we’ve set forth, you really can’t argue with the amount of money. You can say we should have more generous staffing standards and therefore should be spending more money or we shouldn’t have as generous staffing standards and therefore should be spending less. But we’re trying to take the mystery out of it and focus on the standards that are driving the expenses.”
Under the proposed budget, 34 positions will be reallocated at a savings of $1.6 million. Williams said some of the savings come from not filling positions where people have resigned or retired. “How might we spend our resources differently? Instead of going to the Board of Supervisors and saying ‘We need all these non-school-based positions,’ we’ve taken a hard look at which positions. Yes, we’re looking at some new positions, but we’re also reallocating some funds.”
One major reorganization involves the Transportation Department. “We’re going to focus on the efficiency and effectiveness of transportation. We want to both improve service levels and, at the same time, reduce costs. We think we have some potential to do that through some restructuring. We’d be eliminating some unfilled positions in terms of bus drivers and yielding a savings.”
An enhancement in the proposed budget is the expansion of full-day kindergarten. This year, 21 percent of LCPS kindergartners are involved in full-day kindergarten. Four schools eligible for federal Title I schools have full-day kindergarten while six schools have regional programs serving at-risk students. The proposed budget would hire 40 additional staff to expand full-day kindergarten to all at-risk students. “What this proposal would do is serve 100 percent of targeted at-risk students,” said Williams. (These student include students from low-income families, English language learners and some special needs students.)
“There would be a smaller number of (full-time) seats available through lottery,” Williams added.
The proposed budget would maintain universal kindergarten at the four schools that have it and provide at least one full-day kindergarten class in every school where there is space. “In those schools where there’s not space, those target students would be able to enroll in a regional program in another school.”
Williams said he avoided the past debate about the cost of expanding buildings to accommodate universal full-day kindergarten. There is no capital expansion involved in expanding full-day kindergarten in the proposed budget.
“What this proposal does is make a positive step forward.”
The net cost of expanding full-day kindergarten would be $3.5 million.
The proposed budget would restore nine middle school deans that, with the reallocation of 14 other personnel, would be done at a net cost of $200,000.
Even with the additional funding in the proposed budget, Williams said Loudoun’s cost per pupil would remain among the lowest in the Washington Metropolitan area. (Currently, Loudoun has a cost per pupil at $12,195, far behind the area leader, Arlington, at $19,040.) “You multiply those cost differences per student by more than 70,000 students and that’s a lot different budget. We are a cost-efficient school division.”
If the proposed budget were to be fully funded, Loudoun’s cost per pupil would be $12,697. That would still be $83 less than the $12,790 average student cost for the 2008-2009 school year.
Williams noted that LCPS is expected to enroll 2,522 additional students during the 2015-2016 school year. Not only are there more students, their needs are more diverse. The number of English language learner students has grown 62.4 percent, the number of special education students 44.75 percent and the number of economically challenged students 76.5 percent since the 2008-2009 school year while overall enrollment has grown 32.8 percent.
Williams said additional positions needed to handle growth – 349 positions at a cost of $33.1 million – are outlined on new detail sheets. “Transparency is important because we want to build awareness of needs.”
School Board Chairman Eric Hornberger (Ashburn District) attended the January 14th LEAP meeting.