School board endorses rally to support budget

April 24, 2001

School board endorses rally to support budget


Educators plan to rally in support of the Washington County Board of Education's $128 million fiscal 2002 operating budget, a move sparked by the County Commissioners' proposal to slice $1.6 million from the budget.


The School Board unanimously approved the rally at a Tuesday morning budget meeting. Board members had been discussing items that the commissioners proposed not funding when the discussion came up.

The county is the leading funding source for the School Board.

School Board member Roxanne Ober suggested that the community come together to show support of the board's budget.

"Let's do something that will show the County Commissioners education is important..." said Bonnie Parks, president of the Education Support Personnel Local 1. "It doesn't have to be nasty. It doesn't have to be in your face. We can do it."


"I can support that," said board member Paul Bailey. "And I'd even carry a banner."

The School Board said it will not take part in planning the rally but would support the efforts of staff, parents and students willing to participate. There has not been a decision on whether the rally will be held before or after the commissioners' May 8 public budget hearing at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

School Board member Mary Wilfong said a large group of people should speak at the hearing but cautioned against actions that would generate negative feelings from the commissioners.

"I think we go through that every year," said Commissioner William Wivell. "I personally think the county has been very generous to the Board of Education."

The board has asked the commissioners to fund a $6.9 million increase over this year's allocation of $63 million. The commissioners, however, are proposing $1.6 million less than the board's request, which would mean less money for salary, health insurance rate and private placement increases.

The board expects costs for the private placement of special education students to rise next year. Special education students must be placed in facilities outside of Washington County when the school system cannot meet their needs.

Also included in the School Board's budget is a 4 percent cost of living increase plus step increases for all staff, which includes teachers, support personnel and administrators and supervisors.

The commissioners proposed that teachers receive full funding but that support personnel and administrators receive just the cost of living raises with no step increases.

That would lower the board's $5.3 million staff increase request to $4.9 million.

If teachers received the 4 percent raise from the county, they would also receive an extra 1 percent through the Governor's Challenge grant.

The commissioners also proposed not funding other education budget items, including elementary teacher leadership compensation; increases to copier rental fees; an increase in rates for athletic officials; four additional contract school buses for the Hancock area and increases in teacher workshop funds.

The School Board said some of those items must be funded because they are contractual obligations negotiated with the different employee groups. If the commissioners' proposal stands, the board would have to make cuts to other budget items to fund the negotiated obligations.

"If we're going to honor these contracts, where are we going to get the money?" said board member Doris Nipps.

"We bargain in good faith ... and the proposal from the county commissioners is not to fund that," Ober said.

Chris South, the board's director of finance, said the commissioners' proposals were only suggestions and that the School Board has the final authority on where to make the cuts.

The board also discussed whether to ask the County Commissioners to raise taxes to make up for the $1.6 million cut or whether there's enough money in the county's surplus to cover the costs.

"A penny on a tax rate will put a third-grade reading book in every child's hand," Bailey said.

The board has not decided whether it will ask the county for a tax increase. The commissioners have said they do not plan to raise taxes next year.

Nipps said she thinks the budget could be fully funded with county surpluses rather than a tax hike.

"I absolutely believe that the county government can fund our budget without a tax increase," Nipps said. "Consistently over the last several years they have underestimated their budget revenues."

She said she could not recall a time during her six years on the board that the commissioners have used a surplus to fund the education operating budget.

Bailey said the commissioners have given the school system reasonable increases over the last few years but that the board is playing catch-up from the years when it received small increases.

"But we're not catching up," said William McKinley, the board's executive director of support personnel.

School Board Vice President Bernadette Wagner said the budget requests were needed to provide a quality education and that a rally could help get the message across.

"I have no part of being part of a coalition," she said. "Certainly, if we're not advocates for public education, we're nothing."

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