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No questions asked at school budget hearing

March 14, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

About 50 people listened at the Washington County Board of Education's public hearing to address its proposed nearly $150 million general fund budget, but not one spoke to pose any questions or concerns.

A vast majority of Thursday night's audience was school administrators and staff, which Washington County Public Schools Spokeswoman Carol Mowen said is common.

"There's a lot of interest in the School Board budget, but few people come out to voice those opinions in a public arena," she said.

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School Board President Bernadette Wagner told audience members the county School Board is the first of Maryland's 24 school systems to adopt its fiscal year 2004 budget.

Schools Chief Operating Officer William Blum summarized the breakdown of the budget, which is divided into many sections, including an expected $6.7 million in grants from Bridge to Excellence funds, formerly known as Thornton Commission funds; $5.3 million needed to implement the federal education act No Child Left Behind; $800,000 to replace 13 12-year-old buses; and $900,000 to pay the year's electric bills.

Blum said nearly half of the additional spending next year would be in two areas: a 20 percent increase in health insurance ($2.4 million) and differentiated pay ($4.1 million).

The School Board will present its $7.1 million budget request to the county commissioners April 8 at 7 p.m. at South Hagerstown High School.

Blum said, "$7.1 million is very much a reasonable request and we do expect to be fully funded."

Schools Deputy Superintendent Patricia Abernethy said the school system will be using its budget to maintain pre-kindergarten programs, expand all-day kindergarten to six schools next year and maintain the overall school system's approximately 20 to 1 class size while reducing class sizes in higher poverty schools to 15 to 1.

She said school officials would like to maintain career and technology programs, including revamping Washington County Technical High School's printing shop at a cost of $300,000. The shop prepares students to work in any of the 100 printing industry companies in the Tri-State area.

Abernethy said the school system plans to expand offerings in the fine arts, talented and gifted programs and special education.

The highly-qualified teacher element of No Child Left Behind will require the school system to create more staff development. Another stipulation demands it provide adequate teaching materials and supplies to schools, including buying new textbooks and enhancing schools' libraries, she said.

After the hearing, School Board Member Russell Williams waved a flier and spoke to remind the audience about a planned School Board bus trip to Annapolis March 19 to rally for a fully-funded education budget.

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