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WCBOE asks for budget increase

January 23, 2002

WCBOE asks for budget increase



By TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education is asking for a $5.78 million increase from the county for its proposed fiscal year 2003 operating budget, Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Tuesday night.

CONTINUED

Morgan presented to the School Board the approximately $131.78 million tentative budget, which lists increases in five budget areas. The current operating budget is about $126 million.

Washington County Commissioner Vice President Paul L. Swartz, in a telephone interview, said it was possible the county would grant a portion of the request, but he didn't think the county would have enough money to cover the entire amount.

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"As for the Board of Education, it's never enough," Swartz said.

The county is the main funding source for the School Board, followed by the state. The federal government contributes a small percentage of the school system's budget.

The $5.78 million increase would go toward:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $3.9 million in salary increases.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $1.5 million in health insurance costs.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $592,600 for improvements to instruction.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $532,415 for high school improvements.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> $178,900 for building repair, modernization and security.

The proposed budget also includes an $896,000 request for 16 replacement buses. Under state law, school systems must buy new buses for those that have been in service for 12 years.

Swartz said early projections indicate the county would have just $5 million in new money to distribute among all county groups, but that he wants education to be a top priority.

"You can only spread it so far," he said.

The county currently contributes about $70 million to the School Board.

Morgan called the new money request "modest," because it would be the lowest increase request since fiscal year 2000, when the board asked for a $5.72 million increase.

She said that the board would shift money within the budget to help fund the budget requests and keep a close eye on how the money is spent, which would benefit the school system's 19,500 students.

"We'll be able to accept the mission we set out to accomplish, which is to provide the best education to our children," Morgan said.

She said that increasing salaries is a key to keeping a school system successful.

"Unless we're competitive with our neighbors, we're not going to be able to attain quality staff," she said.

Chris South, the board's director of finance, said he didn't know how much of a salary increase each employee group would receive because the School Board is negotiating that amount. The board's employee groups consist of administrators, teachers and support staff.

Included in the building repair, modernization and security request is the hiring of a security and safety specialist, who would oversee a countywide safe schools plan, Morgan said. She said the specialist would help make sure the county avoids possible school tragedies, such as the Columbine shootings a few years ago.

"We're really trying to be proactive in this area," she said.

Fiscal year 2003 is the first year for which the school system is using programmatic budgeting, a plan that Morgan calls more user-friendly than previous budgets.

The programmatic budget, also known as outcomes-based budgeting, breaks down expenses by departments and explains how much funding is needed for those departments.

It also will describe each department and list the expected outcomes of each.

School officials have said the old budgets contained no breakdowns and were hard to understand.

"Instead of just looking at money, we look at the programs behind the money," Morgan said.

South said the School Board will review the budget and is expected to approve a final version in the spring. The budget will then be presented to the County Commissioners for final approval.

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