Unhappy with the school system’s plans to spend $8.5 million in surplus achieved through personnel savings in the current year’s budget, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors this week voted to request $7.8 million of that money be set aside for Virginia Retirement System payments that must be made for FY 2013.
County Chairman Scott K. York made the motion, pointing out that supervisors can do little more than make a request. The school board has free reign over the surplus until July when any fund balance would revert to the county board for reallocation.
“I certainly appreciate the savings,” York said as he made the motion. “The concern that I have is that the school board has set a list of priority items to spend the money on and yet we’re dealing VRS payments that are coming up. I think that it would be most appropriate that the carry over they have go into the VRS system … It is simply a request to the school board.”
Other board members weighed in less diplomatically.
“People should remember that for 2 years, the VRS contributions were reduced by the state with the proviso that those funds would have to be repaid with interest in FY 2013,” said Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who said he tried to persuade school board members to consider that coming expense. “My advice to the school board was not persuasive and they decided to buy things – widgets and things.”
Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) said the use of about $4 million in surplus money to pay for interactive white boards was “silly,” calling the often-touted technology tools “useless gizmos.”
“This is so relentlessly, endlessly, repetitively silly,” he said, accusing John Stevens of changing his stance on white board. “If my 9-year-old son doesn’t want an interactive white board, I can’t imagine whose does.”
School board Chairman John Stevens (Potomac) responded to the board action by saying supervisors are too late.
“This train has left the station,” he said, adding that supervisors should have weighed in when the school system sought input for the use of the surplus as hundred of parents and teachers did.
“The supervisors were silent at that time, “ Stevens said Tuesday. “As of today, 70.3 percent of those funds have been contractually committed.”
With the school board not set to meet again for a week, more of the surplus will be committed, he said.
Steven also clarified that his opposition to the white boards waned after he was given more information and heard support from the public for them.
When asked if the school board understood the need to make payments to the VRS system, Ben Mays, the county’s deputy chief financial officer, said, “They’re certainly aware of the issues.”
However, he also said the supervisors have little control over the money they allocated to the school system.
“You give them an appropriation and it’s theirs,” May said. “They can do whatever they want with it.”
Supervisor Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg), a Loudoun County teacher, criticized her colleagues for questioning the school system’s intent.
“I have to express my utter frustration that people go into a school for one day a week, or once a month or occasionally come in and then they can rule on what the board should do or not do,” she said, so flustered she began to jumble her words. “To say that technology … is a colossal waste of money is ignorant. This … I can’t fumble enough. We have got to stop second-guessing everything the school board does.”
She said school board members and school administrators are the education experts, not county supervisors.
“We’re chastising them for saving that money and then telling them, they being the experts, that what they’ve chosen to buy is irrelevant and unnecessary,” Burk said, responding directly to Miller. “I’m sorry that your son doesn’t like them, but I can tell you that a lot of the kids use them, that they’re extremely useful tools, that we’re extremely lucky.”
School board member Robert Ohneiser (Broad Run), like Burk, disagreed with the majority on his board. However, he opposed some of the proposed surplus fund uses, including the white board, putting him in line with the majority of supervisors. He said he asked for a vote on each project, rather than the whole list.
"It was denied, so from my perspective there was no serious interest in reviewing [LCPS Superintendent] Dr. Hatrick’s recommendations,” Ohneiser said. “On an all or none basis I could not support the package. Since senior LCPS administration refused to commit to insuring that teachers with the $4,200 boards in their classrooms would use them I could not support the placement of such boards everywhere, knowing they might not even get used. This became a very shortsighted decision and I would support a reconsideration that helped us survive next year’s budget."
Supervisor Lori Waters (R-Broad Run) pointed out that during budget negotiations earlier this year the focus was on personnel and class size, leaving her puzzled about the intended surplus uses. At the same time she said her intent wasn't to be “bashing the school board.”
Sterling Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R) said his response to teachers concerned about the spending would be that his hands are tied.
“So essentially when a teacher says to us, 'Why are they spending so much money on white boards?' we can throw up our hands and say that’s what the school board decided to do and we told them not to do it,” he said. “And so in this case today, they’re spending $4 million on white boards and we’re saying please don’t do this. Please reconsider this.”
The school surplus is intended to pay for the following:
- Microsoft licensing, $425,000
- Interactive white board, $4 million
- Instructional wireless networks, $640,000
- Replace bus VCR units, $465,000
- Bus driver GPS technology, $385,000
- GPS hardware for fleet, $11,000
- Maintenance materials, $342,000
- Student lockers, $100,000
- Replacement chiller, $22,000
- Masonry maintenance, $51,000
- Playground safety materials, $45,000
- Insulated food warmers, $137,000
- Parking lot lights, $250,000
- Roof review, $190,000
- Loudoun Valley HS athletic renovation, $200,000
- Trailer replacement, $150,000
- Security card access, $540,000
- Briar Woods entrance, $560,000