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Schools, county debate funding

December 10, 1997

Schools, county debate funding

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

Local funding for Washington County schools is expected to grow by about $10 million over the next five years, but school officials say that is not enough to correct problems of low teacher salaries and other needed improvements.

"We have catch-up to do," said Washington County Board of Education Vice President Marie Byers.

The numbers were released in a meeting between the Washington County Commissioners and the Board of Education Tuesday as the two groups began working on a five-year budget plan.

Officials have wanted a long-term budget, especially for the school system, so they can better plan for local needs.

The County Commissioners are expected to give the school system $51.3 million next year, and that figure is expected to increase to about $60.5 million by 2003, according to projections by the commissioners.

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The funding is just one portion of the Board of Education's budget of about $99 million.

Byers said the school board needs more local funding to increase teacher salaries and expand computer technology in classrooms. Washington County is ranked 21st in the state for its beginning teacher salary, and it is ranked last for the amount it pays teachers with a master's degrees and 10 years experience, Byers said.

"We can no longer operate with that inequity," Byers said.

"I think Marie is correct," said Superintendent of Schools Herman Bartlett.

Bartlett said the school system could spend up to $10 million over the next 10 years to get needed computers for classrooms.

"It's more expensive than anything we've ever done in the education business," Bartlett said of the shift to computers.

Commissioner John Shank said about the only way to get more money for schools is through a windfall or a tax increase. "I wouldn't want to start projecting a tax increase," Shank said.

The school board's five-year budget plan will look at ways to correct problems identified in a recent curriculum audit.

The long-range budget plan for schools, expected to be completed by October, will show projected expenditures, but will not identify ways to fund them, Bartlett said.

Commissioner Jim Wade said he would like to see the expenditures closely follow funding projections released by the commissioners. Any extremely large funding requests by the school board will not get support from the commissioners, he said.

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