There have been several articles (like this one) about the efforts of the new Loudoun County School Board’s willingness to ask questions about the budget and streamline how the LCPS spends their money. In fact this one:
…goes through a sample of the more than 200 questions that the School Board has asked of the LCPS administration about its budget (a sampling of the sampling):
Q: Can we charge Thomas Jefferson students for their additional costs over attending LCPS schools? (e.g. charge for transportation)
A: If transportation is provided to and from school, there can be no charge to the student or the student’s family for such transportation. This opinion was rendered on “August 29, 2007, by the Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia (based on Code of Virginia 22.1-176 Transportation of pupils authorized; when fee may be charged; contribution; regulation of Board of Education).
Q: What would be the anticipated revenue generated from Summer School by increasing fees by $25 at the elementary level, $50 at the middle school level and $75 at the high school level?
A: $6,200 for elementary, $17,500 for middle school and $29,842 for high school.
Q: Would it be legal to offer cash incentives to our top 50 or 100 senior employees to retire?
A: A local retirement incentive has been proposed by a few Virginia jurisdictions over the past few years and is allowable as long as adherence to VRS guidelines and IRS regulations is maintained. Staff has reviewed the potential at LCPS during budget season every year for the past three years. Staff developed a survey two years ago seeking information from those eligible for retirement about their thoughts on a retirement incentive. Although interest was expressed, the expected financial incentive was cost-prohibitive.
Q: When do benefits become available to employees? How many receive benefits at the 17.5-hour work week? Provide totals by scale.
A: Employees who are classified full-time receive benefits upon employment per School Board policy. Employees who work 3.5 hours a day or greater are eligible for benefits. Currently, 94 employees are working 17.5-hour work weeks. Of the 94, only 53 employees have elected to receive health benefits. All 94 receive VRS and GLI benefits. The breakout of the 53 employees by scale is as follows: Classified Scale – 18 employees Teacher Scale – 35 employees.
Q: What are the prices for cookies and ice cream? How much is made off of those?
A: In 2010-2011, both cookies and ice cream cost 60 cents each. Total yearly sales: $614,321.40 for cookies and $513,317.40 for ice cream.
(Ice cream? Really?) Now first of all…super kudos. About time. Despite assertions by the new School Board sulker-in-chief, Mr. Tom Reed, a lot of these questions probably have NOT been asked before, even though I’m sure a lot of them have. And despite Ms. Jennifer “Caution” Bergel’s paranoia about someone somewhere in the nearly 10,000 employee behemoth not getting paid vacation days for accidentally showing up at a Loudoun County Public School site one day, line by line scrutiny is healthy and it shows a willingness to get involved in details which we need.
However, as much as I would like to applaud our new School Board (and I do), this is not even scratching the surface of what needs to be accomplished in Loudoun County Public Schools. (I’d like to point out as well that there ARE some rather heavy ones in there that the Leesburg Today is studiously NOT calling attention to, such as: “How many of the 9614 employees are teachers?” and minor little things like that).
There are five fundamental things that have to be done to bring the LCPS budget back to an area of fiscal sanity, and they are ACROSS THE BOARD, fundamental changes:
1) Consumer-Driven Healthcare–The LCPS needs to IMMEDIATELY renegotiate its Health Benefits and move the workforce more towards a “Consumer-Driven Approach” where the employees are more responsible for their own disbursement of Healthcare dollars. Along with a laser-like focus on disease management to keep those who are unhealthy out of the hospital, giving employees control over their own resources for Healthcare is the ONLY way to control costs. This has been proven. The private sector has been moving toward it…even the County Government has high deductible options. For the LCPS to continue down the ZERO deductible managed care path is an affront to fiscal sanity and an assault to the private sector, who must take the steps to run its health programs more efficiently, while paying the bills of a school system which won’t.
2) Defined Contribution Plans–Defined benefits in the public sector is the most illustrative example of how States, municipalities, and school systems all over the country simply do not understand fiscal reality. Not only is it a ticking time bomb, but it is insulting to the employees of the LCPS to tell them that they can’t handle their own retirement. Yes, Virginia mandates a lot of it, but they lessened one of those mandates a year or two ago, and the previous LCPS added it back in. The increasingly ridiculously named “employee contribution,” which has never been actually contributed by the employees, was moved from the State coffers (paid for by the taxpayers) to the County AND State coffers (paid for by the taxpayers). This is wrong, and whatever action needs to be taken in Richmond to remedy it should be taken. Employees need to contribute to their own retirement, and ideally, their retirement should be based on their own investment choices and not the State’s so that the monstrous balance sheets that are looming for us can be lifted.
3) Performance-based compensation–Another insult to LCPS employees is the insistence on continuing to compensate employees almost completely by how many years they’ve worked for the school system. To make the statement that it’s just too hard, that it’s not complicated, or “that’s just the way it works”…is just old and tired and we’re sick of it. Every day in Loudoun County, citizens have to go to work and they know in order to get that raise or bonus they’ve been wanting they have to perform well…not just enough to get by…but well. I know of very few employees working at the many thousands of businesses in Loudoun who feel like after 5 years, they really don’t have to worry about being the “best they can be” anymore, because their job is secure, and as long as they coast along and do their work they’ll continue to get good pay increases.
The truth is…there are probably few teachers who want to teach that way either. Having conversations about incentivizing early retirement for longer-serving teachers would never happen if they were receiving compensation based on how effective they were and not just how long they’ve been around. No, it can’t be done EXCLUSIVELY on test scores, but I believe the first step is to hire individual school principals and administrators who can help determine performance-based incentives for keeping good teachers and employees.
4) School Choice–Parents and taxpayers need a maximum number of options for helping determine how money is spent on educating our children. This includes 1) enrollment options if they’re in a crowded school, 2) tax incentives for private education, 3) distance-learning options for homeschoolers, 4) business apprenticeship and technical training for those who choose NOT to go to college. Many of Loudoun County’s kids, who for the most part have highly educated parents who are involved in emphasizing education with their kids, would do well in virtually any environment, and if they want to will go to college, graduate, and achieve great things. But the constant emphasis on STEM (Science Technology, Engineering, and Math) education
5) School Buildings–Lastly, school construction needs to be looked at in a huge way. The fact that it took as long as it did to finally figure out a way to create a two-story middle school is beyond comprehension in a county with real estate that apparently goes for $833,000 per developable acre is astounding.
In the meantime, even sane, modest cuts are being lampooned and harangued by the “public”…mostly represented by those employees who are going to be the subject of the cuts. Fair enough, but remember that there are over 300,000 taxpayers in Loudoun County, and hundreds of public servants who protect us from harm. The rest of the County system and the private sector cannot continue to be held hostage by the almost 10,000 employees in the LCPS.
My advice to the School Board is to keep in mind that your job is to EDUCATE CHILDREN, not to employ and provide benefits for people. The LCPS is not a public jobs program, it is a mechanism for educating our children. Nothing more; nothing less.
Stand on the principle of fiscal sanity. It’s going to be a long four years, but if you stand on principle and don’t forget who you’re serving, you’ll emerge victorious and proud.