School board makes plea against cuts

May 13, 1997


Staff Writer

The Washington County Board of Education called a press conference Monday to ask residents to support a tax increase and to lobby the County Commissioners for more money for schools.

The press conference, broadcast live on Antietam Cable, was called to alert the public to the school board's situation and to prompt people to support increased funding for education at the county budget hearing on Wednesday, school board President B. Marie Byers said.

"This is the most critical budget we have faced," Byers said during the press conference. "We have reached the point of no return. There are no cuts that won't be extremely painful to the children."


Ten years ago, nearly 60 percent of the Washington County Commissioners' general fund was earmarked for public schools.

Today, that has dropped to about 50 percent, according to school officials, who said the declining emphasis on funding for education is hurting students.

The Washington County Board of Education deserves a bigger slice of the $97 million pie for fiscal year 1998, which begins July 1, said school board members.

While the county's proposed general fund budget is expected to go up by nearly $6.3 million from this year, the County Commissioners have proposed raising the school system's share by just under $1.9 million, said C. Christian South, school board director of budget and finance.

That's a little under 4 percent more as compared to the $4.4 million - or roughly 10 percent - increase in non-school funding, South said.

A lot of people are under the impression the county's water and sewer crisis is taking money from the schools, South said.

However, less than a quarter of the non-school increase is going to the water and sewer allocation, he said.

The roughly $49.3 million earmarked for the school system will leave it about $4.2 million short of funding for its proposed $104 million budget, South said.

The school board has requested $53.3 million from the county for the coming fiscal year.

Harmful cuts to school programs are imminent if the County Commissioners don't bridge the gap between the school board's budget request and proposed county funding, Byers said.

The community is being asked both to support a proposed tax increase and to request additional money for the schools' operating budget, which has been dropping percentage-wise every year since 1988, she said.

The County Commissioners have voted to increase property taxes and the county's share of state income taxes to bring in an additional $3 million in the next fiscal year.

In conjunction with the press conference, a letter was sent home with students to explain the link between a proposed county tax increase and increases in school funding, said Schools Superintendent Wayne F. Gersen.

The County Commissioners have linked about $1.6 million of the proposed $1.87 million increase to schools to the tax hike, Gersen said.

Since people generally oppose tax increases, the school board felt it necessary to explain the relationship, he said.

The letter said that the school board would be required to withhold raises for teachers and to sacrifice programs for students if taxes weren't raised.

Many parents were upset that their children were used to carry the letter, said County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers, who said he received a number of calls from irate people on Monday night.

Bowers said he questioned the board's judgment in sending a "letter of political significance" home with school children.

"That's totally unconscionable and uncalled for," said Bowers, who said he feels the school board owes parents an apology.

Bowers said he doubts school board members' claims that children in the classroom will be harmed if the budget isn't fully funded.

"Most of the money doesn't get down to the classroom in the first place," he said.

The school board never seems to try weeding out unnecessary programs to offset the cost of new programs, Bowers said.

A hearing on the county's proposed budget will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday in the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Junior College.

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