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School budget adopted

February 01, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett Jr.'s $119-million budget Tuesday failed its first vote by the Washington County Board of Education, which adopted the spending proposal on a second vote minutes later.

With five of seven members present, the School Board first voted 3-1-1 on the budget. When the full board is not present, four votes are necessary for a measure to pass.

Board member Herbert J. Hardin was undecided and member B. Marie Byers opposed the budget. On a second attempt, Hardin changed his vote, giving the budget the four votes necessary for passage.

Hardin said he cast his initial undecided vote because he wanted to be sure the board could make changes to the proposal.

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Byers voted against the spending plan a second time. She expressed concern about unincluded items such as funding for an internal auditor and additional teachers to reduce elementary class sizes. Other board members reacted with frustration.

"We have discussed this budget today and for several weeks," said Doris J. Nipps. "This is not the place to have a work session on the budget."

Byers as well as fellow members Andrew Humphreys and Mary Wilfong were absent from a morning budget discussion. Humphreys and Byers were attending a conference in Washington and Wilfong is reportedly ill.

Board member Edwin Hayes criticized one of Byers' recommendations, saying it was financially irresponsible.

The school system has 13 elementary teachers who are now paid through federal and state grants, he said. If those grants dry up, the board must pay their salaries or fire them. The board can't afford to hire more, according to Hayes. "It's a wonderful idea, but it's very unsound financial responsibility."

Seven high school reading teachers, three guidance counselors and $4.4 million for salary increases are part of the budget proposal. The School Board did not make any major changes to Bartlett's proposal.

The board is seeking a $66-million appropriation from the Washington County Commissioners, about $6.5 million more than the county contributed last year. If funded, the budget will complete a systemwide reading initiative.

To boost literacy, the school system hired reading teachers to work with students in elementary school two years ago. Middle schools added reading teachers last year. The budget contains $258,300 to hire them for high schools this year.

Former guidance supervisor Joe Millward asked the board to hire three guidance counselors last year. The budget includes $154,050 to make the hires, a move proponents say will help make schools safer.

The American School Counselors Association recommends a ratio of one counselor to every 250 students. Washington County schools have about 46 counselors, or approximately one for every 423 students.

The budget does not contain funds to hire any other new employees, but it includes $4,860 to keep an Evening High School clerk now paid for by a grant. It also includes $1,786 for a summer student intern at South Hagerstown High School's finance academy.

For the first time, the school system would use financial incentives to attract employees. Sign-on bonuses for teachers are a $20,000 budget item and $6,000 would create a "driver candidate incentive" for the transportation department.

The budget has several line items for increased costs and equipment, such as $162,300 for computers at Clear Spring Elementary and South High. A health insurance increase will cost $963,466.

The School Board is using a telephone poll to get public feedback on the budget. As of Monday, 700 calls had been made on the survey, according to schools spokeswoman Donna Messina.

Results of the poll will be available when the board holds a public hearing on the budget Feb. 8. It may make changes before presenting a final draft to the County Commissioners Feb. 28.

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