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School budget may have backup

January 12, 2001

School budget may have backup



By TARA REILLY / Staff Writer


The Washington County Board of Education is considering creating a back-up plan that would slice dollars off the superintendent's proposed $127.4 million budget for fiscal year 2002.

Board President J. Herbert Hardin and at least two other School Board members think a back-up budget plan is needed to spare the school system from cutting staff or salaries in case it does not receive full funding from the County Commissioners.

Hardin said if an alternate plan were devised, it would be done behind closed doors so the information doesn't leak out to bargaining groups or affect negotiations with them. The commissioners would also be left out of the discussions, he said.

"You will never hear us say what our priorities are," Hardin said. "We wouldn't put anything in print, because if it did get out to negotiating teams, they would really use it to their advantage. We can't do anything to jeopardize negotiations."

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So far the School Board has not agreed to the idea of creating a back-up plan, and Hardin said he's not sure a majority would go along with it.

"No one else seems to be as interested," Hardin said.

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner and board member Roxanne Ober said Tuesday they favor back-up plans.

"I would like options available to us so the board doesn't have to make drastic cuts," Wagner said.

"I just think a contingency plan would be wise," Ober said.

Ober said Thursday she was not sure whether such a plan should be prepared in private.

Board member Edward Forrest said Thursday that he hasn't made up his mind, but that a back-up plan might not be needed.

He thinks the board should focus on the budget priorities presented by Schools Superintendent Herman G. Bartlett.

Chris South, the board's director of budget and finance, said he was concerned that creating a back-up plan would send the message that some items on the proposed budget aren't priorities.

The budget includes $9.6 million in new requests. The commissioners will be asked to fund about 70 percent, or $6.9 million of that amount.

The full budget request asks that commissioners fund $70.7 million of the budget, a 10.8 percent increase over last year's county appropriation of $63.8 million. Last year's total budget was $118.4 million.

Last year, the board eliminated about 20 part-time instructional assistants when it had to cut about $1 million from the fiscal 2001 budget. Other cuts reduced staff development funding, hours of guidance counselors and two positions were eliminated at the central office.

"We all know realistically that the county is not going to fund us fully," School Board member Doris Nipps said Tuesday.

Hardin said Tuesday he would not agree to any staff cuts this year. He said last year's cuts were made by board administrators and that the School Board had no idea that guidance counselors' hours would be cut. Some of the instructional assistants were re-hired during the school year, he said.

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