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Class size, technology focus of budget discussions

March 05, 1998|By TERRY TALBERT

Class size, technology focus of budget discussions

Class size and technology were the subjects that took center stage at a Washington County Board of Education budget work session on Wednesday.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. has proposed a $108 million budget for the fiscal 1998-99 school year. His top priorities are: Competitive salaries for teachers, reading and reducing class size.

The proposed budget includes 38 new teachers for the county's overcrowded schools, but Bartlett said class size remains a problem. He said he has been using money from a contingency fund to get instructional assistants into crowded classrooms.

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Bartlett said he opposes setting a fixed student/teacher ratio.

Board Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Theresa Flak said in order to reduce the ratio to 18 students for every teacher in grades kindergarten through third - as has been considered - the board would have to hire 86 new teachers and build 86 new classrooms.

Board Vice President B. Marie Byers said she thought the proposed budget's $170,000 allocation for science and computer labs was inadequate.

"I won't approve a budget with only $170,000 in it for technology. It's a real slap in the face to our professionals," she said.

Board members said the technological program has been put together piecemeal over the years, and is out of date.

Byers said she would be willing to make cuts in the maintenance and operations departments if necessary to increase funding for technology.

Bartlett said working on the budget was a frustrating job, given limited funding and ever-increasing needs. He said various departments initially asked him for a total of $20 million in new money for the upcoming fiscal year.

"No one got everything they asked for," he said.

In making budget decisions Bartlett said he focused on what he thought necessary to keep the schools operating as efficiently and effectively as possible.

In the only reference to the elementary school instrumental music program, Bartlett said he was hoping for support for the budget from the Washington County Commissioners and understanding from the public.

He said he was pleased that those making the request for reinstatement of the instrumental music program have not said "take the money out of reading to give to them."

Last Thursday, about 150 people attended a budget hearing to make the case for reinstatement of the instrumental program.

Byers expressed the board's frustration over the fact the county annually gives the school board less than what it asks.

Bartlett said after the meeting that his staff would take another look at the proposed budget based on suggestions made by board members.

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