Money woes may cause School Board to eliminate positions

March 11, 2002|BY TARA REILLY

The Washington County Board of Education will probably have to eliminate positions if the county votes to give the School Board $4.3 million less than it requested for next year's proposed $132.8 million budget, School Board President Edward Forrest said Sunday.

It might also mean a reduction or elimination in proposed salary increases, which would make contract negotiations with employees difficult, Forrest said.

"If we took away salary increases, we're still going to be looking at a shortfall," he said.

The School Board is currently in the process of negotiating contracts, which include salary talks with teachers and administrators.

The board has tentatively set aside $3.9 million for salary increases in the proposed fiscal year 2003 operating budget.

The Washington County Board of Commissioners has proposed giving the School Board a $1.4 million increase over its current contribution of $68.3 million.

The School Board asked for a $5.78 million increase, which would be enough to cover salary increases, health insurance cost increases, the creation of 10 new teaching positions and a security specialist, school improvement programs and other costs, school officials have said.


The commissioners are also giving the School Board $896,000 in addition to the proposed $1.4 million county increase for 16 school buses that must be replaced to meet a state requirement, Forrest said.

The county is the main funding source for the School Board, followed by the state. The federal government contributes a small percentage.

If the School Board had to make cuts, Forrest said it would probably mean not filling the positions of employees who have retired. He also said the proposed creation of new positions and programs might have to be re-evaluated.

"We'd have to look at cuts of some kind," Forrest said.

Commissioner Vice President Paul L. Swartz said he didn't know if the county could afford to give the School Board anything more than $1.4 million, but that education is the county's top priority.

"Anything's possible," Swartz said. "But everything's going to be real tight, and we've got to be fair all around."

Hagerstown Community College, which also counts on money from the county, isn't anticipated to receive an increase this year, Swartz said.

However, he said it's important that HCC receives some increase.

"We can't flat-budget them," he said.

Nonprofit groups that ask the county for annual contributions will also be getting less than requested, Swartz said.

The commissioners are anticipating just $3.4 million in revenue increases, which must be distributed among all groups that receive funding from the county, including the School Board.

The county will have to make cuts to increase funding to other groups, Swartz said. The proposed county budget is currently balanced.

"We will stretch it the best we can and be fair," Swartz said. "I don't know that there will be some major cuts, but there will be some cuts."

The School Board will present the proposed budget to the commissioners at a public hearing April 2 at 7 p.m. at HCC's Kepler Theater.

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