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Principals could face tough budget decisions

April 14, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

In the business of education, schools are small companies, principals are their CEOs and their decisions - cutting school staff, programs and supplies - sometimes are the hardest to deliver.

The federal No Child Left Behind act is testing the limits of Washington County's education business.

The act, which is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient, has caused the Washington County Board of Education to ask for more money to help finance its general fund operating budget for next year.

The School Board is asking for $7.1 million more than the $70,142,854 the Washington County Commissioners provided for this fiscal year's general fund operating budget. In addition, it's asking for the same $876,584 it got in a state disparity grant for next year's budget.

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The County Commissioners are the board's largest funding resource, followed by the state, which also provides money for the general fund budget.

"We're acting as if we're going to get our full funding," Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said. "No Child Left Behind is the law of the land."

Morgan said the school system has not devised an alternate plan if it doesn't get its request. A poor economy should not affect the money the school system receives, she said.

If the school system does not get sufficient funding, it will be forced to divvy up what it does receive among different departments, including each of the system's schools.

"We're talking about radical cuts," Morgan said.

Deidre Shumaker, principal at E. Russell Hicks Middle School, said principals make organizational reports, composed of requests for teachers, textbooks and supplies, in October or November based on their projected enrollments for the following year. Principals find out how much money each school gets sometime in late May or June.

Making decisions on how to cut teachers will be made more challenging as a result of the federal act, said North Hagerstown High School Principal Robert "Bo" Myers.

Boonsboro High School Principal Richard Akers said high school principals will focus on maintaining teachers in core subjects where students are tested.

"We've just talked about staffing," Akers said. "Every year, chairs break and have to be replaced, roofs leak and have to be replaced and just maintaining what we have."

Shumaker said middle schools will look at maintaining teachers in core subjects as well, but also look at cutting staff in electives like home economics, art and technology education before looking at remedial subjects. She said remedial classes must remain a priority because lower level students need to be brought up to speed with upper level students, according to the act.

In elementary schools, principals must focus on keeping class sizes at a 20-to-1 teacher-to-student ratio in kindergarten through second grade, said Darlene Teach, principal at Maugansville Elementary School.

Joanne Hilton, principal at Boonsboro Elementary School, said she tries to get teachers involved in thinking about the school's options if the budget is cut significantly.

"Our teachers know how schools work," Akers said. "They all know it's a matter of money."

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