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Outdoor school may face budget ax

May 29, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

The Fairview Outdoor Center and a new elementary school improvement grant program were the two biggest targets in a list of cuts proposed Wednesday to close a $3.2 million funding gap for the Washington County Board of Education's 1997-98 budget.

The school board could save an estimated $227,000 in staffing, transportation and utilities costs by closing the outdoor school in Clear Spring, according to figures presented by Schools Superintendent Wayne F. Gersen at the afternoon work session.

Cutting the new grants program - aimed at strengthening reading and math skills at the elementary level - would lower the budget by nearly $1.32 million, Gersen said.

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The school board learned Tuesday night that despite its public pleas that "painful cuts" were inevitable without a higher allotment, the Washington County Commissioners decided to fund only $49.1 million of its $53.3 million operating budget request.

The County Commissioners promised an additional $750,000 outside the budget for one-time expenses and allowed the school board to keep its $1.3 million "stabilization fund" to fund technology purchases.

By shuffling as many qualifying expenses as possible out of the operating budget, Gersen said he and his staff were able to cut the budget by $750,000.

Gersen warned that the shifts will leave the 1998-99 budget $1.04 million short of covering anticipated costs in maintenance, transportation and instructional technology.

The school board needs to close the $3.2 million budget gap in order to fund salary increases at the levels the board has offered in employee contract negotiations, Gersen said.

Among other proposed cuts were:

  • $120,000 - to expand school/family liaison services to all county elementary schools.
  • $130,000 - to add two roofers, a plumber and an electronics technician to the maintenance department.
  • $43,904 - for instructional library materials.
  • $35,000 - to hire a professional grant writer.
  • $30,000 - to fund an "elementary intern" position designed to provide training for potential administrators as well as administrative support in the absence of an assistant principal.
  • $24,200 - to cover deputy fees at high school sporting events. Schools would have to continue funding the fees out of gate receipts.
  • $20,000 - for a new half-time guidance counselor position.
  • $17,060 - for a new half-time trade and industry instructor.
  • $15,235 - to provide free PSAT testing for high school sophomores and cover half the cost of students' Advanced Placement tests.
  • $14,000 - to pay a consultant to train bus drivers.
  • $13,000 - to fund a half-time clerical position in the public information office.


School board members had little to say about the proposed cuts during the meeting.

Board member Andrew R. Humphreys said he didn't want to see the new grant writer position eliminated because of its potential to bring in private grants.

Humphreys recommended temporarily cutting programs that could be resurrected with private grant money.

Board member Doris J. Nipps said later that she feared cutting the budget to meet the funding will cause the school system to backslide because it won't be able to meet instructional technology and other needs.

Nipps said that while she didn't want to close the outdoor school, which her own children enjoyed attending, cutting the auxiliary program is preferable to cutting programs kids have daily in school, like music and art.

The popular outdoor school - where every Washington County student spends a week during their fifth-grade year - was threatened two years ago during budget-cutting but survived.

Students will be the ones losing out if the 19-year-old program doesn't make it this time, said Gregory A. Wilkes, head teacher at the school for the past 15 years.

During their stint at the outdoor school, students are challenged with a variety of activities that relate to the curriculum they're learning in the classroom, Wilkes said.

They also learn things like trust and cooperation, he said.

"There's a lot of social and emotional growth that doesn't show up on test scores," Wilkes said.

Staff displaced by closing the school will be offered other positions within the school system, Gersen said.

The school board set its next budget work session for Monday at 10 a.m. in the board conference room.

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