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School Board passes budget

March 12, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday voted 5-0 to approve a nearly $150 million general fund budget for fiscal year 2004, with plans to pay for a federal education act and to bolster teacher training and recruitment.

School Board Member Russell Williams was absent.

The School Board plans to ask the Washington County Commissioners for $7.1 million more than the amount provided by the county in the current fiscal year for the general fund budget.

According to School Board figures, the county commissioners provided $70,142,854 for this fiscal year's budget in addition to an $876,584 state disparity grant.

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Based on those figures, the school system is asking for $78,137,824 from the county for the next fiscal year.

The School Board is scheduled to present its budget to the County Commissioners on April 8.

Chris South, the school system's finance director, said, "Our request is $7.1 million, but since the county won't receive $876,584 from the state for education this year the county will need $7.9 million to fully fund the board of education budget."

The county commissioners are the largest funding resource, followed by the state, which also provides money for the general fund budget.

School Board President Bernadette M. Wagner said the federal No Child Left Behind act and the phasing in of Bridge to Excellence funds, formerly known as Thornton Commission funds, were major factors in the development of the budget for the next fiscal year.

The 2004 fiscal year budget is about $14 million, or 10 percent, higher than this year's $136 million general fund.

Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the general fund budget is a reflection of the November approved five-year Master Plan, a guide compiled by school officials to help them achieve goals to be in compliance with the federal act's mandates.

Wagner said the school system was the first in Maryland to submit its master plan and budget, which is a task she said speaks to the district's commitment to educating its children.

During both the Tuesday work session and the meeting, Morgan held up a 1,000 page booklet on No Child Left Behind, which she said has guided the school system during the budget preparation process.

Money tied to the federal act is spread throughout the school system's budget, which includes about $860,000 to phase in all-day kindergarten next year, about $1 million for textbook replacements and $1.5 million for training highly qualified teachers. A total of $5.3 million has been directly tied to the federal act for next year.

Nearly half of the additional spending next year would be in two areas: a 20 percent increase in health insurance, or $2.4 million, and differentiated pay, or $4.1 million.

School Board Vice President Paul W. Bailey compared keeping up with the federal act's mandates to keeping ahead of a winter storm.

"The budget has to be funded at this time or we'll be playing catch-up for the next 25 years," he said.

As part of the No Child Left Behind act, the school system will be required to track the yearly progress of each of its students, and will be punished for being a failing school system if its students are not in line with federal standards, Morgan said.

School Board Member Jacqueline Fischer said she was "concerned if we don't get funding and we should become inadequate that it will have far-reaching effects on the county as a whole."

Morgan said if the school system doesn't get the funding it needs from the County Commissioners, it will be forced to give up comfortable class sizes or will need to review staff salaries and benefits.

"Everything will have to potentially be on the chopping block," she said.

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