School funding leads county budget forum

April 27, 1999

Budget forumBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photo: RIC DUGAN /staff photographer

Pleas to fully fund the school system's spending requests dominated a public hearing on Washington County's fiscal 2000 budget Tuesday night.

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Approximately 185 people attended the hearing at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, but less than one-third of the audience spoke.

Although several people talked about other funding areas, most focused on the Washington County Board of Education's budget.

Earlier this month, the Washington County Commissioners decided to give the School Board $1.9 million less than the $61.6 million it requested.

During the first two hours of testimony Tuesday night, 27 of 37 speakers urged the County Commissioners to give the School Board more money.


"The School Board is poised to take this community into the 21st century," said Stella Mandley, chairman of the Emma K. Doub Elementary School citizens' advisory committee. "They need full funding to do it right and do it well."

"This money is going toward a good cause," said Ryan Allen, a junior at North Hagerstown High School. "The most important thing is the education of our youth."

"The extra funding is an investment in the future of students," said Kate Buchenroth, also a junior at North High.

Debbie Shank of Bester Elementary School stood with two children and told the commissioners, "Remember these faces. Remember how important education is to these little ones."

Cathy Scuffins, a Hickory Elementary School teacher, said that "the future of the county rests in the hands of these students ... They are the future taxpayers and voters."

Some speakers focused on specific goals they said will not be met without full funding, such as reduced class size or the ability to attract and keep excellent teachers. Others mentioned the importance of education to the economy.

"In order for our teachers to effectively educate our children, class sizes must first be reasonable," said Ann Lewandowski.

"I see what the lack of reading skills and math skills can do to the work force," said Doug Stone. "It will ultimately hurt the economic aspects of this community."

School Board President Edwin Hayes emphasized the strategic plan, which helped identify the school system's needs.

"We are at a crossroads," he said.

"Will the strategic plan be used to move forward or will this document be just another document? Only you have the power to decide. Our children deserve to be our top priority. They are the future of Washington County," Hayes said.

Jenny Belliotti, president of the County Council of Parent Teacher Associations, agreed. "We need the commitment of the County Commissioners and the general public to the strategic plan, and we can do that with dollars."

Terry Hovermale, president of the Washington County School Bus Contractors Association, said he was extremely disappointed to discover a raise in drivers' fees and salaries will not be funded.

"We assume this means we are considered as fluff," he said, defining the word as something unnecessary. The 39 contractors who drive most of the school system's buses have not had a raise since 1991, he said.

George Evans said more people didn't testify because they think it's useless. "I think I speak for many parents who simply didn't bother to come here tonight," he said. "Help sow the seeds of hope in our schools."

The commissioners are expected to meet May 4 to make final budget revisions, if any, based on public input. They will adopt the county's budget that day.

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