WINCHESTER — Even before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on the local economy, it was unlikely the Frederick County School Board would receive all the funding it’s seeking from the Board of Supervisors for its fiscal 2021 budget.
At recent county meetings, Supervisors Blaine Dunn, Shawn Graber and J. Douglas McCarthy were critical of school officials, saying they needed more information and had only seen a three-page school budget summary, which is available online at https://bit.ly/FCPSbudgetproposalFY21. They said they wanted a detailed, line item budget.
Frederick County Public Schools Superintendent David Sovine maintains the School Board has been forthcoming with its budget plan.
“Despite the opinions expressed by a few members of the Board of Supervisors, I believe we are extremely transparent regarding our budget and throughout the budget development process,” Sovine wrote in an email to The Star.
Sovine said a highly detailed budget can’t be finalized until both the county and state have finalized their appropriations to the school division.
Dunn and Graber said on Wednesday that Loudoun County Public Schools has a detailed budget proposal with hundreds of pages available online.
Sovine said he can’t speak to what other school divisions do. He said the School Board has used its budget process for many years and has enhanced it over time. “As far as I know, our School Board members feel as though they have the information needed to allow them to develop and adopt a budget,” he said.
Steve Edwards, the school division’s Coordinator of Policy and Communications, told The Star the supervisors have been provided with considerably more than three pages of budget documents.
According to Edwards, following the School Board’s fall training session on Oct. 25, each supervisor was provided with the same 142 pages of information provided to each School Board member during the session. The School Board used that information to develop its FY21 budget priorities.
Sovine explained the process of developing a budget begins at the fall training session. The supervisors and county administrator have been invited to attend the session, he noted. The School Board also solicits public comments on budget priorities. After the School Board adopts priorities, Sovine develops and presents his budget to the School Board in an open meeting.
Sovine’s $233 million budget proposal for FY21 seeks an extra $15.4 million from the county — $97.3 million, up from $86.4 million in the current fiscal year.
At the School Board’s Feb. 18 meeting, Sovine gave a 22-page budget presentation. Sovine also provided the supervisors with additional information on his budget proposal during the School Board/Board of Supervisors joint meeting on Feb. 26.
Edwards also said school officials have responded to numerous questions from different supervisors via email during the budget process.
Edwards added that the School Board’s approved budget for fiscal year 2020 is available online and that next year’s budget will build on that.
Although some superivsors have questioned how the School Board spends its money, Sovine said that it’s not the supervisors’ role or responsibility to dictate how the school division allocates its funds.
“Among other things, the School Board is solely responsible for the school division’s financial matters, including developing and approving the budget,” Sovine said. “The Board of Supervisors is responsible for appropriating funds to the school division. I believe it’s important for both boards to understand their responsibilities and respect each other’s decisions with respect to those responsibilities. The members of both boards are elected by the citizens of Frederick County, should be trusted to fulfill their responsibilities and are ultimately held accountable by their constituents.”
Sovine said the two governing bodies “generally have a good working relationship.” He also said, “There is always some room for improvement.”
Sovine added that he would like the two boards to consider meeting periodically throughout the year to discuss needs and how to address needs. He said the community will continue to grow and that addressing those needs will require strategic, long-term planning.
In response to Sovine’s statements, Graber said he knows his role as a supervisor and that a line item budget would allow the supervisors to have “a good, sit down dialogue with the School Board.”
“It is concerning to me that a school system such as Loudoun County, I know a lot more about that locality’s school system than I do about my own,” Graber said.