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BOE budget discussed

May 09, 2001

BOE budget discussed



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Washington County CommissionersPhoto: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Washington County school officials canceled a rally planned for Tuesday night to show support of the school system's $128 million 2002 operating budget.

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Officials had discussed holding the rally, endorsed last month by the Washington County Board of Education, either before or after the County Commissioners' public hearing on the county budget.

Instead, School Board members, administrators, parents, teachers and retired administrators spoke at the hearing to give reasons why the education budget should be fully funded.

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About 110 people attended the Tuesday hearing at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, and 23 voiced concerns about the education budget. Many of the speakers favored full-funding of the education budget.

Carol Mowen, the School Board's public information officer, said school officials decided to see how the commissioners responded to the their comments made at the hearing to see if a rally would be necessary.

She said she did not know if a rally would eventually take place.

The commissioners, who are the leading funding source for the School Board, proposed slicing $1.6 million from the budget.

School Board members and employees think the cut would mean less money for several education priorities, including salary, health insurance rate and private placement increases.

Bonnie Parks, the president of Educational Support Personnel Local I, said the cut works out to $164,000 less for support staff than the amount the School Board proposed in negotiations.

"These are not employees who have full pockets, but employees who make the least amount of money," Parks said. "Those cuts will also affect predominantly women who do not qualify for health insurance because they do not work six hours per day."

School Board member Paul Bailey suggested that the commissioners contribute annual county surpluses to the education budget. He said the county has been underestimating surpluses since at least 1996.

In 1996, Bailey claims the county had a surplus of about $3 million; in 1997 a surplus of about $10 million; in 1998 about $8 million; in 1999 about $6 million and in 2000 about $5.2 million.

Jennifer Aiken, a senior at North Hagerstown High School, and Tyler Patton, a senior at South Hagerstown High School, told the commissioners in a joint presentation that a fully funded budget was necessary to assure the best education for students.

"Our students cannot continue to be the best if we don't provide them with the best," Aiken said.

School Board candidate Russell Williams said the only way the county could afford full funding for the School Board, as well as other groups, was to raise taxes.

"The pot is only so big," Williams said. "What's the solution? The solution is to increase the size of the pot. Raise my taxes. Please make the pot bigger."

Education, including funding for Hagerstown Community College, makes up $75.7 million of the county's proposed $129 million general fund budget.

About $68 million of that is proposed to go toward the School Board's budget. Last year, the county allocated about $63 million to the board's budget.

The commissioners plan to vote on the county budget on May 15.

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