Taxes, Schools, and Sidewalks

Kids went to school one day this week. This marks the second week this winter where the Loudoun Schools have only been in session for one day. Many members of the community are incensed at the fact that our kids have been kept home so often this year. They complain that it is “just a little snow and cold,” and where they’re from originally, this kind of “wussiness” in the face of winter wouldn’t be tolerated.IcySidewalkTweet

Funny thing about that, though: Where they’re from originally, there is a long-standing local commitment to the public’s responsibility to take care of public infrastructure, like schools and transportation infrastructure, at the public’s expense. Here in Loudoun County, Republicans who run the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, not to mention those in the House of Delegates, have no such commitment. On the contrary, there is an attitude of “Starving the Beast” when it comes to public services and investment. As if our children’s education were a Beast of some sort.

There is a direct relationship between the choices these Republican Boards have made, in terms of tax rate, County budgeting and LCPS budgeting, and the large number of “snow days” we have had this school year.

1. The Board of Supervisors decides on a tax rate based on the abstract goal of “cutting taxes” rather than a rational assessment of needs and a pragmatic discussion of how to structure county revenue streams to meet those needs.

2. As a result, the County Government has less money for essential services, including things like road maintenance and clearing. Thus, marginal decreases in the level to which roads are maintained and cleared in bad weather leads to icier, riskier roads in the western part of the County. Roads that Loudoun school buses are supposed to travel to pick up children and return them home.

3. As a corollary result of Republican Board policies, responsibility for road and sidewalk maintenance is frequently transferred from the County (a public entity) to HOAs (private entities) which do not have a social, public responsibility to maintain walkways and roads to the same extent a local government does. Neither do they have the tools and capacity to raise money for such needs that a government does. Thus, sidewalks and walking paths often don’t get salted and cleared.

4. As a result of insufficient funding, the School Board drastically cuts the LCPS transportation budget, forcing thousands more students to walk to school. The prevailing attitude seems to be, “good, that will toughen up those whippersnappers, why back in my day we walked uphill both ways in the snow!” At least, that’s the attitude up until the instant that it is their child almost hit by a car at a risky intersection, or falling and breaking their leg on an icy sidewalk. And then of course their neighborhood should get a bus!

5. Because thousands more children (including 5 year old Kindergarteners) are supposed to walk to school, LCPS Administration is wary of the risk to these kids on unmaintained sidewalks and under-cleared intersections during the busiest morning commute times. (And lest you think intersection accidents during morning commutes on cold winter mornings are nothing to worry about, I encourage you to subscribe to Loudoun Alerts and see how many notifications come in of such accidents every week.) Thus, when in doubt Administrators close the schools, in the name of children’s safety. A very, very valid concern.

6. Because students don’t have school, hundreds of thousands of parents (after all, there are more than 70,000 students in Loudoun Schools) have to rearrange their days to care for them. In many cases, that means taking a day off of work. That represents almost a million hours of lost wages and productivity for each snow day, assuming a parent stays home with their kid when they would have otherwise gone to work.

(As an aside, this Board was elected on a “pro-business” platform. I fail to see how defunding services and schools to the point where hundreds of thousands of parents might have to skip work for nearly a week at a time because of dangerous routes to school could be considered pro-business.)

There is no “Beast” to starve. There is only our public welfare, beaten and battered by the ideological extremism of a Board hell-bent on preserving their anti-tax purity. And our kids’ education, and workforce productivity, are the sacrifices this Board of Supervisors makes to that golden idol.

So the next time your kids are kept home from school because it is “cold.” Consider whether saving $10/month this year on your property taxes is really worth the price we all pay.

9 thoughts on “Taxes, Schools, and Sidewalks

  1. Epluribusunum

    One more way that the cost is shifted: Those of us who telecommute – which is supposedly encouraged by our local and state governments – can also lose significant productivity on snow days, because of the massive increase in load to the towers. Whether “those whippersnappers” are whiling away their bonus free time playing games or doing something more productive online, they’re clearly doing something to suck up the bandwidth :) .

  2. Andy Cameron

    I couldn’t disagree with this article more! How in the world can you blame EVERYTHING on the Republicans who control the Board of Supervisors? A page right out of Obama’s book! If something is wrong….it’s probably the Republicans’ fault! Get over yourselves already! Agreed, the Board of Supervisors are humans doing the best they can to do what they feel is the right thing….and let’s face it…..not every decision they make will be the right one….but come on! If you don’t like something, get out there and do something about it! Quit bellyaching!

  3. Angela

    Another reason schools are closed on inclement weather days that many LCPS parents and residents aren’t aware of – the large number of teachers and other employees (and there are many) that live and commute over the mountains from West Va to work for LCPS because Loudoun is a very expensive place to live on an educators salary.

  4. Hillsboro

    Thank goodness for you shining your alternatively powered spotlight on this important issue! Oh how we yearn for the return of Andrea McGimsey and her tireless efforts to unleash the bulldozers upon the savage wilderness of unpaved western Loudoun.

  5. Paradox13 Post author

    I completely agree about the cost of living in Loudoun vs. teachers’ salaries. I strongly support paying our teachers (and other LCPS staff) a wage that allows them to be members of the community they serve and support.

    As to blaming the Board of Supervisors, you’re absolutely right. I do hold the Board of Supervisors accountable for things that happen on their watch that are County responsibility. I have no doubt they think they’re making good decisions, I’m just pointing out that the evidence of experience would seem to indicate that they have made some bad decisions when it comes to revenue and the budget, and maybe there’s value in learning from that.

    And finally, yes, I should get off my butt and do something. I appreciate the call to action and will take it as incentive to work hard to elect new representatives as soon as possible.

  6. Mike

    I have a few problems with this article since its only purpose seems to be to blame the evil, REPUBLICAN board! First of all, it does not snow much here. The other communities that have a “long-standing commitment to the public’s responsibility to take care of local infrastructure” likely do so because they have to. They are in places that get a ton more snow than us and If they didn’t, the kids would never go to school. I honestly do not want to spend a whole lot of money preparing for snow that never comes. So what if the kids are out of school a couple of days. I never complained once. It is actually quite funny seeing Facebook posts from “Ashburn moms” who are missing their Pilates classes and lattes. Second, the facts are a bit off on those 2 weeks. One week had a holiday and a teacher workday while the other week had a bad call (roads were just wet and it was above freezing all day) and a day where students stayed home because it was too cold. Extra money for road clearing may not have helped for 3 of those days. Yes, I too think it is silly to save a few bucks at the local level and am always fully behind tax increases for schools. I also always vote for the school ballot initiatives. Honestly, if the county was to take another $10 a month from property taxes, I would like them to put it into teacher salaries or art and music programs. Please, feel free to blame those yucky REPUBLICANS for us having lower teacher salaries than PWC, but this is just silly.

  7. Paradox13 Post author

    I’m glad you didn’t complain about the snow days (I didn’t either), but many, many of my neighbors did. I agree the money should go to teacher salaries etc etc, but I felt it worthwhile to point out that there is a correlation to be drawn between a higher likelihood of snow days and budget decisions made by the Board.

  8. Mike

    Perhaps there is an inverse correlation between the number of snow days and the salaries of teachers? I certainly hope not ;)

  9. Aaron

    Great article. And, oh calm down, Mike and Andy. What are you doing defending a bunch of politicians?! Just because Paradox is blaming Republican *politicians* doesn’t mean he/she is some evil liberal or loves Democratic Politicians any better. Stop playing the “Team R”, “Team D” game. The point is, we DO have Republican politicians running the Board right now, and we have for a long time now in Loudoun County. And our local politicians are every bit as single-minded and narrow-visioned as the ones in Congress. And that hurts our county.

    It’s not the lattes and Pilates, but thank you for taking a few examples that were probably jokes and expanding them to the vast majority of us who are missing WORK for all these snow days. That was sarcasm, in case you don’t have the wit to see it.

    Again, great article, I agree as much as is possible, and let’s get out there and vote these clowns out next time!

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