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Turnout low at budget hearing

March 07, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

Despite attempts from the Washington County Board of Education to draw support for its proposed $132.8 million budget, a public hearing on the budget Wednesday night went largely unnoticed by county residents.

Two people signed up to speak at the hearing, and one didn't address the budget. Many of the approximately 12 people in attendance were School Board administrators.

"I'm disappointed," School Board member Roxanne Ober said after the hearing.

Ober said the board had sent letters to parents of every student in the school system informing them of the hearing.

School Board members have said attempts to reach the public on budget matters have a history of low turnouts.

"It's normal," School Board member Mary Wilfong said.

Public support of the budget is critical to the School Board receiving the $5.78 million increase the school system is seeking from the Washington County Board of Commissioners, Ober said.

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The commissioners, who are the main funding source of the School Board, have proposed giving the board a $1.4 million increase, more than $4 million less than requested. The county currently contributes $68.3 million to the School Board.

The School Board has said it would use the $5.78 million increase to cover several expenses, such as raising employee salaries, hiring 10 new teachers, creating a security specialist position, paying for health insurance cost increases and improving student achievement.

Without the increase from the county, school officials have said improvements to the quality of education may be set back.

Some of the requests include:

--$3.9 million in salary increases

--$1.6 million in health insurance cost increases

--$592,000 for instructional improvements, including the hiring of four teachers for the Alternative High School and staff development.

--$532,415 for high school improvement, including the hiring of six high school teachers, providing SAT prep courses and offering remediation courses for the High School Assessments, which is required by the state.

--$110,000 for building repairs, including $68,900 to pay the salary and benefits for a security specialist.

Jackie Fischer, the lone member of the public to speak on the budget, said school security plans are needed to ensure safety, but the job can be done by a consultant to save money.

"Once plans are developed and implemented, the services of a security specialist are no longer necessary," she said.

Ober issued a challenge to members of the community to support the budget on April 2 at 7 p.m., when the School Board presents it to the commissioners. That public hearing will be held at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

"The voice of the public is key for us to receive additional funding," Ober said. "I'm challenging the public to come and voice their opinions and support for a fair and modest increase in the education budget."

On Feb. 19, the School Board adopted a $133.2 million budget, but a copy of the budget handed out Wednesday night listed the budget at $132.8 million.

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