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PTA says Board of Education playing politics with budget

March 20, 1998

By DAVE McMILLION

Staff Writer

The president of the Washington County Council of PTAs accused the Board of Education of "playing politics" with students' education during a Thursday night public hearing on the coming fiscal year's budget.

Many of the 80 people who turned out for the meeting expressed their funding priorities, ranging from smaller class size to reading programs.

Some questioned the school board's decision to include funds for instrumental music classes at elementary schools to the 1998-99 budget when it was not included in a priority list for the spending plan.

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Terry Williamson, County Council of PTAs president, said the board was "playing politics with the education of students" by adding $295,200 to the $108 million budget for instrumental music.

Williamson said she is opposed to adding funds for instrumental music to the budget when the board has established reading as a priority.

She said she fears the board will end up in the same situation it found itself in last year when it was forced to cut a $1.3 million reading program from the budget because the Washington County Commissioners did not fund the entire spending plan.

"The commissioners more than likely will not even fund the superintendent's budget," said Jenny Belliotti, member of the County Council of PTAs.

Then the board will be dealing with the "dreaded budget ax" to make the spending plan work, Belliotti said.

County Commissioner John S. Shank said earlier this week that the board probably would get "a nice increase in funding" but not everything it wants. "I'm all for good education, but you've only got so much money to go around," Shank said.

Many of the parents and teachers who spoke said the board needs to focus on reducing class sizes.

President Clinton has called for a teacher-to-student ratio of 1-18, but some classes in the county have a ratio of 1-28, said Lucy Austin, a first grade teacher at Paramount Elementary.

Other classes have as many as 32 students, parents said.

Parents complained about cramped conditions in classrooms and lack of space for reading programs.

"This isn't a production line. This is our children's education," said Tom Keifer, whose daughter attends Paramount Elementary School.

Austin asked those who supported reducing class sizes to stand. Almost all rose to their feet.

Board of Education President Robert L. Kline said the board probably will not make any immediate changes to the budget. Kline said he wants to see the commissioners' reaction to the budget first.

The board will present its budget to the commissioners next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Junior College.

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr. said the budget includes money for 38 new teachers, including 13 reading teachers. Bartlett said that will reduce the teacher-to-student ratio a bit.

"We're concerned about it," said school board Vice President B. Marie Byers.

The school board voted to include the instrumental program in the budget after parents and teachers turned out in large numbers in support of the program.

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