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School budget request would need tax increase

February 10, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Commissioners would have to raise taxes to fully fund Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett's proposed budget, Commissioner Bert L. Iseminger said Tuesday.

"The only way we could fund this is with a general tax increase," Iseminger told the Washington County Board of Education during a joint meeting at Emma K. Doub Elementary School.

The county currently contributes about $55 million to the school system. Bartlett's budget proposal seeks $6.5 million more from the commissioners next year.

At the very least, that's $4 million too much, according to the commissioners.

"We're being told we have $2.5 million in new money and you guys are asking for $6.5 million of it," said Commissioner William Wivell.

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In other words, all but $2.5 million is committed, according to Wivell. The School Board is competing with other funding requests for pieces of that pie.

Wivell asked the School Board to understand those constraints.

During the meeting, Bartlett emphasized key aspects of his proposal, including the "cohort adjustment," a measure to increase the salaries of all county teachers.

Bartlett said the adjustment would raise Washington County's standing in Maryland.

A beginning teacher's salary is now ranked 20th among 23 counties and Baltimore City. The 1.5-percent increase would raise the ranking to 16th, said Human Resources Director Phil Ray.

Ray said the increase is necessary to recruit and retain teachers. "I do fear losing our teachers in this competitive market," he said.

"We feel this is something we have to do," said School Board President Edwin Hayes.

Iseminger asked how the salary increase compares to other school districts.

"I mean, they're not standing still," Iseminger said. The raise "might just tread water," leaving Washington County's ranking unchanged.

Ray said an informal survey shows no other district plans to make more significant raises. The increase "is going to move us up in the relative standings and keep us there," he said.

Iseminger took issue with the inclusion of funding for eight middle school reading teachers in the budget. He said he would rather see those teachers hired for elementary schools.

"My philosophy is, elementary school is where you want to concentrate all your efforts," he said.

Iseminger emphasized financial constraints, saying, "It comes down to prioritizing a limited amount of money."

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