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Proposed school budget hits $120 million

December 07, 1999|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Superintendent of Schools Herman G. Bartlett Jr. Tuesday presented a $120 million budget proposal for the 2001 fiscal year, a spending plan that asks the county to increase its funding by 10 percent over the current year's level.

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The proposal seeks $6.8 million more than the Washington County Board of Education's $113 million current operating budget.

The additional money would be used to address the school system's "immediate needs" such as making teacher salaries and recruiting more competitive, he said.

Washington County's teacher salaries are below state averages on every scale. Last year's raises helped but more money is needed, Bartlett said.

"That is our most important area. We've had a little success, but we don't want to stop that now," he said.

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The budget includes $4.5 million for salary increases and $20,000 in bonuses for new hires. It would extend a reading program to high schools, adding seven new literacy teachers at a cost of $258,300. Three new guidance counselors would cost $154,050.

Calling the budget "logical, acceptable and fundable," Bartlett linked funding to performance. He touted above-average ACT and SAT scores as well as improvement in the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program scores.

Money contributes to those successes, according to Bartlett. "Our school system is doing extremely well compared to others in the state," he said. "But we can do better."

He criticized the county for underfunding schools, citing data from the Maryland State Department of Education. Statistics show per-student spending is not keeping pace with the county's wealth.

Among Maryland's 24 school systems, the county ranked 15th in wealth per pupil but 23rd in cost per student last year. Bartlett compared data from 12 years ago, when the county's wealth ranked 14th and cost per pupil ranked 11th.

"I wonder what happened?" he said. "We don't need a tax increase. We need a new prioritization in the county's budget."

Bartlett's plan includes a list of priorities that is different from last year's list. Old items have been dropped and new ones added.

Many of the new items, such as 12 replacement buses at $663,000, are required expenses, Bartlett said.

Increased utility costs, technology service contracts, and safety and special education equipment are among those items deemed necessary.

Other areas of increased spending include:

-- A health insurance increase will cost $963,466.

-- Elementary maps, books and globes will cost $117,000.

-- Computers for South Hagerstown High School and Clear Spring High School will cost $162,300.

Last year's budget plan listed 52 items in order of priority. Bartlett's new plan ranks 35 items. It also includes more than 150 school requests, showing the name of each school beside its request.

In preparing the budget proposal, staff surveyed schools to determine needs and compiled them and the administration ranked top requests.

The Washington County Board of Education accelerated the budget schedule to give a final draft to the county sooner. Last year, the County Commissioners complained they received the School Board's budget later than they would have liked.

"We are about five weeks ahead of where we were last year," said Bartlett. "We are working on their timeline, not ours."

The first of two public hearings on the plan will be held Jan. 8, 2000. The School Board may make changes and will adopt its own version of the budget Feb. 8, 2000. It will submit the final draft to the county Feb. 28.

Copies of Bartlett's proposal are available at the Central Office.

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