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Washington County School officials trim budget

May 13, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Washington County Public Schools officials presented to Board of Education members a plan for cutting the fiscal 2004 general fund budget by more than $5 million during a work session Monday.

More than $2 million of the proposed cuts would come from instruction. They would include "personnel action that may affect existing staff," and reducing the number of new teaching positions the board hoped to add in the coming academic year, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Morgan did not say what the personnel changes affecting existing staff would be. She said the School Board's "priority has been not to reduce (the number of )classroom teachers in order to maintain class size" and to have teaching staff available to implement requirements of the new federal No Child Left Behind law.

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Chief Operating Officer William Blum said revisions to the health care plan and various salary packages would reduce the budget by more than $2 million. Details of the revisions were still being negotiated and had not been released, according to Public Information Officer Carol Mowen.

The board planned to adopt its general fund budget during a business meeting today.

The proposed cuts are in response to a loss in state funding and to the Washington County Commissioners' planned $4.3 million reduction to the School Board's request for funding.

The School Board lost $691,591 in state funds with the elimination of the Governor's Teacher Salary Challenge Program, Blum said. It was notified by the state last week that the local share of costs for special education will increase by $306,450.

School Board President Bernadette Wagner asked Blum whether the County Commissioners were aware of those additional costs. "That's almost $1 million the commissioners assumed we would be getting from the state," she said.

Blum said he had not communicated with the commissioners, but promised to contact them Monday. The commissioners were scheduled to adopt the county's fiscal 2004 budget this morning.

Blum also recommended that the board replace only five school buses rather than the 13 originally slated, saving another $456,000. The other eight buses were retrofitted last year and would have to be inspected again, he said.

He also recommended deferring a scheduled print shop modernization until January, saving $96,000, and eliminating a planned parental Internet access program designed to go along with No Child Left Behind reforms, but not required. "We simply can't afford it this year," Blum said.

The county's budget 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 the county for $78.4 million.

Mowen said a videotape of the work session would be broadcast at 2:30 p.m. today on Antietam Cable Channel 99. The Board's business session today will be broadcast live at 4:30 p.m.

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