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School Board OKs budget but warns more cuts possible

May 14, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

After getting $4.8 million less than it sought in state and county money for its fiscal 2004 general fund budget, The Washington County Board of Education on Tuesday approved 6-0 a budget that includes cuts in instruction, raises and health care costs.

The School Board decided to approve its $144.5 million budget despite a decision by the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday to wait another week before approving the county budget. The commissioners, who were waiting to hear from Maryland about whether the county faces additional state cuts, fund much of the School Board's budget.

The motion to pass the School Board budget carried the caveat that more cuts might have to be made if the board receives less money from the commissioners than anticipated.

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"We've probably exhausted all our energy and any other assets we might have to make this budget palatable," said School Board Vice President Paul W. Bailey. "I believe we've gone as far as we can at this point in time."

School Board President Bernadette M. Wagner said the School Board tried to keep the budget in line with the federal No Child Left Behind act by attempting to keep class sizes small and by trying to keep teacher positions.

The federal act is designed to close the achievement gap between schools and make sure all students, including disadvantaged groups, are academically proficient.

The School Board lost $691,591 in state funds with the elimination of the Governor's Teacher Salary Challenge program. That contributed to a total $1 million loss in state funds for the 2004 fiscal year, said School Board Member Roxanne R. Ober.

The county commissioners plan to give the School Board $4.3 million less than the School Board requested.

Ober said she expects the School Board to continue adjusting its budget over the next 30 to 60 days.

In response to the shortfalls, Washington County Public Schools Chief Operating Officer William Blum said the cuts include:

-- $1.1 million from raises for teachers, teaching assistants and other instructional staff. Ober said those raises were still being negotiated.

-- $900,000 in health care costs.

-- $200,000 from special education services.

-- $150,000 from all-day kindergarten by reducing the number of newly requested art, physical education and music teachers.

-- $100,000 from the Funkstown School for Early Childhood Education, reducing the number of teacher positions at that school.

--$60,000 from the cost of middle and high school English department heads by combining their responsibilities with Student Achievement Specialists.

-- $50,000 from Smithsburg High School to cut one new teaching position.

-- $35,000 from hiring bonuses.

Wagner said those bonuses are still being negotiated.

-- $30,000 from department head stipends by eliminating department chairs except in areas in which schools are tested: English, social studies, science and math.

-- $30,000 from summer school salary money.

--$20,000 from middle and high school Saturday money.

The School Board will be able to replace only five of the 13 buses it had hoped to replace, Blum said. He said the county commissioners have proposed that in the future the School Board receive money to replace a flat number of buses regardless of whether more or fewer buses need to be replaced.

Ober said the School Board has talked about raising the athletic fee, the special permission fee and the fee for school usage, such as day care, to bring in additional revenue for the school system.

"The fees will fall on the users of the school, the parents of school-aged children," she said.

School Board Member Russell Williams said students in need of financial assistance would remain eligible for a break on certain fees.

He said if anyone approaches him and asks why a particular program has been cut, he will ask that person which program he or she would prefer to see cut instead.

School Board Member Jacqueline Fischer said, "We'd like to fund everything, but we can't."

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