Area schools grapple with rising costs, enrollment growth

WASHINGTON — With teachers itching for raises and more students coming to many classrooms in the D.C. area, school superintendents across the region say they are making difficult decisions in proposed budgets that will be presented this week

The budgets could change tax rates, too.

Proposed budgets for the 2016-17 school year will be presented in Fairfax, and Loudoun counties in Virginia and in Howard County, Maryland on Thursday.

Fairfax County Public Schools leaders have been sounding the alarm for months over what they have said would be a massive potential budget shortfall.

Thursday morning, Superintendent Karen Garza will unveil the highlights of the budget plan for the upcoming school year. She will present the full plan to the school board Thursday night.

The school system has said spending, including the cost to pay for enrollment growth and 1.5 percent raises for teachers and staff, is expected to increase by about $113 million for the 2016-17 school year. The school system operates with a $2.497 billion budget this year.

The school system has said the increase in expenses would lead to a shortfall of $60 million depending on how much more money comes in from the state and county.

The county’s elected leaders are lobbying for more education money to be included in the state budget, as proposed last month by  Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Fairfax County says more than 100 people have already signed up to speak to the county’s delegation on Saturday about priorities for the General Assembly session, including increased school funding.

Loudoun County Public Schools is projected to have its first $1 billion school budget next school year. This year the school system has a $982 million budget, and had nearly a $913 million budget the year before. A preliminary presentation in August showed projected enrollment changes alone could lead to $25 million in extra costs to maintain things like class sizes.

In addition to finishing new school construction, retirement and health care costs, salaries and school bus replacements are other factors that are expected to drive the total budget above the $1 billion mark.

Elsewhere in Virginia, the Prince William County Public Schools budget proposal will be presented to the school board Feb. 3.

In Maryland, school systems don’t yet know which formula the state will rely on to distribute school funding, leaving school systems to guess at how much will come in.

Montgomery and Prince George’s county public schools have already announced their budget proposals for the 2016-17 school year amid concerns over whether budget shortfalls for county government would also impact school funding.

Montgomery County Public Schools’ proposed operating budget is $2.4 billion next year, a 4.5 percent increase from this year, and reflect in part a projected increase of 2,500 more students.

The budget proposal for Prince George’s County Public Schools adds up to $2.02 billion, an increase of 9.9 percent over this year.

Prince George’s County projects receiving $49.9 million more from the state, but expects a drop in federal grants and local revenue.

The proposed budget also seeks an additional $128 million from the county.

The budget proposal presented Wednesday in Frederick County, Maryland, by Superintendent Theresa Alban is not balanced.

The $568 million budget would be a 4.3 percent increase over the current school year, but the school system would have a $24.2 million deficit.

“The Superintendent will continue to work with the Board of Education over the next several months to balance the budget request as revenues are more firmly established and expenditure requests are vetted,” the document presenting the proposals says.

Frederick County is among the few public school systems in the region expecting an enrollment decrease, and county funds are expected to drop accordingly by about $1.6 million. However, some educational costs are expected to rise, including an increase in the number of students who are English-language learners.

The school system estimates a $3.4 million boost from state revenues.

The budget includes $7.5 million to pay for delayed raises for employees, rising health care premiums and other costs.

Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose presents her proposed budget for the next school year Thursday at 4 p.m.

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