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School Board plans to submit budget faster

June 03, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

The Washington County Board of Education plans to speed up its budget process so it can submit its spending plan to the County Commissioners earlier than it did this year.

Accelerating the process will be an improvement, but honesty is more important, County Commissioner Paul Swartz said Thursday.

"It will give us a chance to examine and discuss (the budget) in the open a little more," he said. "The real issue is still being honest with each other and predicting ahead of time what their surplus will be."

The accelerated schedule is intended to allow for more discussion between the two boards.

"We don't feel we get our budget in to the commissioners as early as we should," Director of Finance and Budget Chris South said Tuesday.

South presented a draft of the fiscal 2001 budget calendar to the School Board during a work session. The time line, which has not been approved, includes submitting the board's budget to the commissioners on Feb. 28.

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This year, the School Board handed over its budget proposal on April 6, just 28 days before the County Commissioners passed the county budget on May 4. During public meetings, the commissioners openly lamented the lack of time for dialogue.

"The timing hasn't made for the best relations," said County Commissioner John L. Schnebly. Getting the budget sooner would be a "big help," he said. "The earlier, the better."

The county spends more than half its money on education. "It is the prime driver of all our spending," Schnebly said.

The commissioners need to know the school system's spending plan beyond 12 months, he said.

School Board members learned of what they called "unexpected revenues" three days after the commissioners passed a $161 million budget this year.

South showed the board $600,000 in revenues based on financial projections from the end of May, part of an excess $1.6 million identified within the budget.

The timing of the disclosure rankled some commissioners, who had asked seven days before if any surplus was expected.

"I sort of resented the fact that they said they would not have any," said Swartz.

South and School Board members said there was no intent to deceive.

But Swartz still questions why financial projections weren't made sooner.

"I just think we have to be honest with one another. If they try that approach, they will find we will be extremely generous," he said.

South's proposed calendar also speeds up the planning cycle. Between June and October, principals would begin meeting with parents, teachers, students and citizen committees to identify each school's needs.

The proposal calls for principals to submit budget requests by Nov. 1. A prioritization team would meet with the Budget Advocacy and Review Committee Nov. 30. The superintendent would present his budget to the School Board Dec. 21.

The School Board is expected to vote on the new budget calendar in a business meeting June 15.

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