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County budget hearing centers on school funding

May 08, 2002|BY SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Most who spoke at Tuesday's public hearing on Washington County's proposed budget asked the County Commissioners to fully fund the Washington County Board of Education's budget request for the coming fiscal year.

About 125 people attended the hearing at the Kepler Theater at Hagerstown Community College. Sixteen of 21 speakers asked for more education funding.

Several people said the School Board can become a better school system but it will require increased funding.

"Our vision is to create a world-class school system," said School Board member Roxanne R. Ober, who spoke on behalf of the School Board. A world-class system would benefit students and inspire economic development, she said.

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"We ask that you consider the future lives of our students, their employability and the economic viability of the community," Ober said.

The county budget proposal calls for the School Board to get $70.1 million for operating expenses. That's an increase over the $68.3 million the School Board received for the current fiscal year, but less than the $74.1 million the School Board requested for the next fiscal year.

Nina Garcett, vice president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said county residents and students will suffer if the board's budget is not fully funded.

Randy Leatherman, the parent of a Fountain Rock Elementary School student, and three other speakers said they have been told that school will lose a teacher if the School Board's budget is not fully funded. They asked the county to find the money to meet the board's financial request.

After the meeting, Ober said there is a proposal to "redeploy" 10 elementary school teachers, including one from Fountain Rock, to the middle schools in response to increased enrollment in the middle schools.

Without additional funding from the county, there won't be money to hire new teachers in response to that change, Ober said.

Good schools are a community asset that encourages economic growth, said Nancy Allen, a Washington County Realtor. The county should fully fund education so the county can continue to grow economically, she said.

"Our business leaders should accept nothing less," she said.

Russell Williams, a school board candidate, said the commissioners have a good track record on funding education. If people care about education, they will re-elect the five commissioners this year, assuming they run again, he said. Only Commissioner Paul L. Swartz has filed for re-election.

As people applauded, County Commission President Gregory I. Snook said, "We did not pay him to say that either."

Not all of the speakers asked for education funding.

At an April 2 meeting, the commissioners tentatively decided to cut by 3 percent the funding for 13 nonprofit agencies, including the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.

Museum Board of Trustees President William P. Young asked the commissioners to reconsider cutting 3 percent, or $3,375, from the museum's budget.

"You know we operate on a bare-bones budget. We need your help to remain a vital force in this community," he said.

Representatives of Children's Village and Senior Living Alternative also asked to be spared 3 percent cuts.

The commissioners on April 23 tentatively balanced the $133.7 million general fund budget and agreed to take it to the public hearing for discussion. The total budget, including other funds, is $189.9 million.

The commissioners are scheduled to vote on the budget at the May 14 meeting.

The fiscal year begins July 1.

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