School board gets spending flexibility

June 04, 1997


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners didn't give the Board of Education more money, but did give it more flexibility on how to spend it after a plea Tuesday by the school board.

The commissioners had previously allocated about $1.9 million in additional money for the Board of Education operating budget and about $2.1 million in one-time expenses, such as technology upgrades.

Under the new formula, the commissioners allocated $3 million to the operating budget and $1 million to one-time expenses.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey suggested making the change, and was supported by fellow commissioners John S. Shank and Ronald L. Bowers. Commissioner James R. Wade said he had a problem with using some money from a one-time funding source - a $1.368 million surplus in the Board of Education employees' self-insurance fund - for operating expenses, because the County Commissioners will be obligated to provide that money again next year by state law.


Wade proposed $2.6 million for operating expenses and the $1.368 million for one-time costs.

Shank said again he wanted to make sure that senior teachers at the school board receive a pay increase.

Earlier Tuesday, the school board and Superintendent Wayne F. Gersen made a last-ditch request for more money, especially in the operating budget.

Gersen also said the commissioners had tied the hands of the school board in future years by not putting the money into the operating budget. The board wouldn't be able to come through with the pay increases - in the 3.3 percent range - that had been discussed in negotiations with employees, without major cuts elsewhere. Salaries could not be funded as a one-time cost, Gersen said.

After the commissioners changed the funding formula, Gersen said it was a step in the right direction.

"We're going to reopen the whole budget scenario," he said. "It's heartening to see."

Wade said that he would like to see all county employees receive the same pay increases, whether they are school board employees or general government employees. Wade said there needs to be a mechanism whereby the commissioners can have some control over how much in increases the school board employees receive.

Gersen said he was glad Wade was talking about both groups having the same increases, because school board employees haven't had as large increases in the past few years as other county employees.

Gersen also told commissioners that the county appeared to be underestimating its income tax and property tax revenues by $2.5 million - money that could be going toward the schools.

Bowers has said that the past few budgets have had large surpluses built into them - $2.3 million in 1996 and an estimated $2.5 million this year. He said he thinks the tax revenue estimate in next year's budget is too low and he thought that was done on purpose to make it look like a tax increase was necessary.

"Today, I found myself on the school board issue agreeing with Wayne Gersen," Bowers said. "I couldn't believe it."

Last week, the commissioners increased the property tax effective July 1 to $2.31 per $100 in assessed property value, up from $2.21. The move is expected to generate about $2.4 million a year.

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