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Budget hearing's focus is primarily on schools

May 07, 2003|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN, MD. - While most of those present turned out Tuesday night to support an increase in funding for Washington County Public Schools, money for education wasn't at the top of School Board member Russell Williams' concerns.

Williams, who said he was representing the International Size Acceptance Association, told the County Commissioners at a public hearing on the proposed fiscal year 2004 operating budget that they should have provided stronger chairs for those carrying extra pounds.

"Why is it felt that fat people are not worthy of having the opportunity to come and sit in armless, comfortable sturdy chairs?" Williams asked.

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Williams said there were two folding chairs at the hearing, which was held at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater, but they were only able to accommodate up to 250 pounds.

The chairs in the Kepler Theater are in rows and have arms.

Williams offered to give the commissioners a $50 grant to pay someone to carry out more suitable chairs.

Most of the 14 people who spoke at the hearing, however, asked the commissioners to include more money for the School Board in the county's $138.6 million operating budget for fiscal year 2004.

The county's proposed budget is $4.9 million more than the current budget of $133.7 million.

The spending plan includes $74.6 million for the School Board. That amount is $2.9 million - or 4 percent - more than the county's contribution of $71.7 million for the current fiscal year.

The School Board had asked for $78.4 million, saying the additional money was needed to meet new federal mandates of the No Child Left Behind act, according to the county.

The proposed budget calls for 66 percent of the county's $4.9 million in new revenue to go to the School Board. That revenue is mainly generated by income and property taxes.

Washington County Teachers Association President Claude Sasse said he thought the county's percentage of funding to the School Board had dropped over the last few years.

He told the commissioners they had a constitutional obligation to fully fund the School Board's budget.

Parent Debbie Pryor asked the commissioners to give the school system enough money to pay for instrumental music offerings in the elementary schools, saying music allows children to reach their highest potentials.

"It is high time we harmonize together and take a strong look at reality," she said.

Some of those who spoke at the hearing said they would support an increase in taxes to give the School Board a higher level of funding.

"If higher taxes are needed ... I am all for that," Bester Elementary School parent Karla Heinrich said.

County resident Charles Newcomer, however, said he wanted the commissioners to stop spending to reduce borrowing and debt.

"Our kids and our grandkids are going to have to pay a bill," he said. "It's time to tighten our belts. Why do we want to put ourselves in this kind of debt?

But fourth-grade Bester student Jaid Sandeen had a different opinion.

"I don't want you to fully fund the budget," Jaid said. "I want you to fund it and add $2 million so we can really build a world-class school system. I'm going to take care of you when you're old. You need to invest in me now so I can do a good job for you."

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