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Bus contractors get more money in budget

February 15, 2000|By BRUCE HAMILTON

Bus contractors could get increased pay for maintenance costs if the Washington County Board of Education's $119-million budget gains full approval from the County Commissioners.

The School Board adopted a final draft of its spending proposal Tuesday, adding a final $16,720 line item to boost contractor compensation. The money would help the board meet the state's average pay for bus maintenance.

The board previously decided to ask the County Commissioners to increase the school system's current $113 million operating budget by no more than $6.55 million. Members had agreed not to add any new expenses to the budget without removing others.

But they suspended that agreement Tuesday to include the extra pay, which board member Andrew Humphreys called "a drop in the bucket." The proposal now seeks an additional $6.57 million.

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Board member B. Marie Byers suggested eliminating a $50,000 line item earmarked for changing pay grades for support personnel. A consultant who conducted a reclassification study of those job recommended the changes and projected their cost.

The School Board has not adopted the recommendations of the Hendricks and Associates study and decided last month to pursue a different one and compare the two. But board members said they want the money in the budget in case it is needed.

The head of a union representing 935 school support employees protested the money's inclusion. "ESP Local No. 1 believes that the Hendricks report is seriously flawed," said President Bonnie Parks.

"No fiscally responsible private, public or governmental body, we believe, should fund any part of a study that has yet to be accepted by that body," she said.

Parks was the only citizen at Tuesday night's business meeting who spoke about the budget. The School Board adopted it with a 6-to-1 vote.

"I believe there is a valid concern about the reclassification study," said Byers, who opposed the budget. She also said she wanted to hire a full-time internal auditor. Other board members said they have adequate contracted services.

The budget lists its priorities in order, from one to 36, so that the county's contribution may decide which ones are funded. The top priority is systemwide salary increases, a cost of $4.4 million.

Seven high school reading teachers and three guidance counselors are included in the bugdet. The spending plan does not create any other new job positions, but it would spend $4,860 to keep an Evening High School clerk now paid by a grant.

The increased bus contractor pay is the last priority. The $16,720 would increase the maintenance rate from .515 cents per mile to .529 cents per mile, which is the state average, according to Director of Transportation Chris Carter.

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