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Schools plan calls for more spending

September 08, 1998|By GUY FLETCHER

Meeting the educational needs of the new millennium will cost Washington County schools more than $13 million in new spending for facilities, programs and staffing over the next five years, according to a report released Tuesday.

That is the price tag being placed on a series of recommendations, included in the first draft of a 24-page "strategic plan" for the county, that are intended to guide the school system and its students for the next 10 years.

"This has to be not only a blueprint for the future, but also a road map for us to move in the direction the public wants us to move," said Theresa M. Flak, assistant superintendent for instruction for the Washington County Board of Education.

The plan proposed several additions to the school system's budget, including:

- Spending $7.5 million over the next five years on the school system's capital improvement budget, which pays for renovations, maintenance and new school construction. The current school budget for such projects is approximately $2.5 million a year.

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The new money should be used to accelerate the completion of the county's large renovation projects, including those at South Hagerstown High School and Clear Spring Elementary School, as well as to build five-classroom additions instead of purchasing portable classrooms.

"Some of this is addressing needs that we just aren't getting to," said Dennis McGee, director of facilities management for the school board.

- Spending $2 million over the next three years to improve classroom technology.

- Spending nearly $300,000 a year to establish procedures for the development, implementation and management of the school system's curriculum.

- Adding positions in the areas of staff development, community relations and technology services, at a minimum cost of $168,000 a year.

The recommendations are the product of several months of study of the school system by committees made up of teachers, administrators, business people, parents, students and others.

"The community as a whole has been willing to come together to improve the school system," said Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.

He called the plan "one of the biggest steps perhaps we've ever taken in Washington County schools."

The committees were appointed earlier this year in response to an independent study, called a curriculum audit, of the school system last year.

That analysis detailed a number of deficiencies in the school system, including a lack of organization in the management structure, micromanagement by school board members and inequities among schools in the county.

"No matter where you live, you should expect, and we should give, an educational system that will allow you to compete in a global economy," Bartlett said.

The strategic plan is intended to address the curriculum audit concerns, as well as respond to the Washington County Commissioners request that the school system develop a long-range plan, Bartlett said.

Few were surprised when that translated into more spending. Flak, who co-chaired the steering committee that wrote the plan, said the budget requests are not unreasonable.

"We're very cognizant that we are not working with unlimited funds," she said.

County Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers said he is concerned the process through which the plan was developed did not explore ways to reduce spending in certain parts of the school budget and reallocate those dollars to other areas.

"That has not happened. Everything thus far has been geared toward adding money," Bowers said.

Some of the recommendations have little or no cost, including passing policies to reorganize the school system's management structure and reaffirm the superintendent's role as leader of day-to-day school matters, with the school board's chief job being to make policy.

"Individual board members, while elected to represent the local citizens, have no more or less authority than any other citizen. Board members must exercise caution as not to step out of the policy-making role to make decisions for the entire board," a section of the report reads.

The report also said the school system should "explore and develop" alternative methods for meeting instructional needs, such as year-round schools, full-day kindergarten and expanded pre-school programs.

Some of the recommendations, such as changing budgeting procedures and other administrative tasks, are to be acted upon immediately. All of the recommendations should begin to be acted on by the end of 2000, according to the report.

Two public hearings on the draft report will be held next week. A final plan will be presented to the school board on Oct. 30.

School board members were guarded in their comments about the initial report, saying it was too early to judge the specifics. Several praised the process that brought such a wide variety of interests into the process.

"The community involvement has been great, and that's what we need," said school board President Robert L. Kline.

School board member Edwin Hayes said, "It does give us some well-defined direction to head for."

If the school board agrees with the recommendations, many will have to be included in next year's budget. School officials said that likely will hinge on whether taxpayers are sold on the plan's merits and costs.

"I think if you can say to the public, 'This is what we think the school system needs,' they'll support it," said board member Doris J. Nipps.

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