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Schools seek increase of 8 percent

December 27, 2000|By TARA REILLY

Schools seek increase of 8 percent



Washington County school officials are proposing a budget of about $128 million for fiscal year 2002, about $9.6 million more than this year's budget, according to School Board documents.

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Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett was scheduled to present the proposed budget to the School Board and public last Tuesday, but the meeting was canceled because of weather.

The next School Board meeting is Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the board's central office on Commonwealth Avenue.

The proposed budget includes:

-- $5.3 million in salary increases for all staff.

-- $2.3 million for projected cost increases in health insurance benefits.

-- $896,000 for 16 replacement school buses.

-- $350,000 for increased energy costs.

-- $216,000 to replace four contracted school buses.

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The current budget is about $119 million.

The School Board said the new budget requests are in line with the $8.5 million projection given to the Washington County Commissioners in a previous three-year plan.

At least one County Commissioner, however, thinks funding the increases could be a tough task.

Commissioner Paul L. Swartz said that while the commissioners are committed to keeping education a top priority, both sides need to discuss the issue closely. Raising taxes to fund the education budget is out of the question, he said.

"We have to be very realistic as to how far we can go with the money we have to work with," Swartz said. "There's no way we can raise taxes locally. We have to rely on the state's help and pencil sharpening at the Board of Education's end."

Swartz said the county is required to fund whatever it funded last year, under the state's Maintenance of Effort law.

"If that's all we can fund, then that's all we can fund," he said.

The county also must contribute 4 percent to the Governor's Challenge for teacher salary increases, which will allow teachers to receive an additional 1 percent from the state. The commissioners agreed to accept the challenge last year.

Swartz said the county has other priorities, such as funding for seniors programs and social services.

He predicted that working out next year's budget will be the most difficult job the current Board of Commissioners has had.

"We're dedicated to funding education the best that we can, but we can't short-change the elderly or other programs that are really a must," he said. "It's going to probably be the hardest couple of months in our terms yet."

Bartlett could not be reached for comment at home. The School Board's central office is closed this week.

The Board of Education documents state the increases represent "the critical needs" of students and that graduates "must be prepared to be responsible citizens and to contribute to the economic well-being of Washington County."

They also state the commissioners have provided an average increase of 9 percent a year in local funding since fiscal year 1998. The current budget proposal amounts to an increase of about 8 percent over last year.

Those increases have contributed to four schools in the system being named Blue Ribbon schools, moving up to sixth in the state on MSPAPs, exceeding national and state averages on SAT and ACT scores, lower class sizes in the early grades, five career academies and a full-day kindergarten pilot program, among a list of other achievements.

The documents, on the other hand, also state that while school achievement has increased, the county spends among the lowest in the state in cost per pupil, at $6,443. The county ranks 21st out of 24 jurisdictions in that category. Cost per pupil includes administration, instructional salaries, instructional materials, special services, transportation, operation of facilities and fixed charges.

The School Board will hold several public hearings and workshops to discuss the proposed budget. Final adoption is expected in April or May of 2001.

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