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It's time to fully fund the school system's budget

January 17, 2004|by GARY NALLY

I have two school-aged children attending Washington County Public Schools and my wife is an educator. Since 1999, I have served on many school-related committees.

Through these positions I have gained insight from different perspectives and increased my level of appreciation for the positive gains and accomplishments made by the school system. These accomplishments are attributable to the dedicated efforts of the teachers, administrators and elected board members pursuing the vision to make WCPS a world-class school system.

Compliance with the Federal No Child Left Behind Act will continue to challenge WCPS's efforts to eliminate student-achievement gaps, accelerate the achievement of all students, provide highly qualified staff, ensure safe school environments, and strengthen the involvement and support of parents and our communities.

However, I still have a concern regarding funding. Jan. 8 was the two-year anniversary of the NCLB Act, and the federal government published the following regarding President Bush's overall Fiscal Year 2005 budget by stating that it represents a 48 percent increase for elementary and secondary education since FY2001 and includes:

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- An additional $1 billion in Title 1 funding for disadvantaged students, for a total that represents a 52 percent increase since FY2001.

- An additional $138 million for reading programs, for a total that is over four times the amount spent in FY2001.

- An additional $1 billion for special education programs, in total, an increase of 75 percent since FY2001.

With all this alleged additional funding from the federal government, why are individual states, local governments and school systems constantly battling for adequate educational funding? As such, I seriously question the sincere efforts of the Washington County delegation in advocating for adequate educational funding for Washington County.

Maryland enacted the "Thornton" Bridge to Excellence in Public Schools Act in 2002 to ensure that all students benefit from adequate educational resources; that each county school system receives an equitable share of state funding, and that school systems are held accountable for individual student achievement. The act calls for significant annual increases in state funding for public schools through 2008. The challenge now is to continue to build the bridge to excellence by providing full funding in the upcoming fiscal 2005.

Local challenges facing our schools relate to funding needs for renovations and enrollment growth. We have seven schools more than 50 years old, with no air conditioning and no safety-sprinkler systems, that do not meet the needs of contemporary education. We currently have a $7.3 million capital improvement budget chasing an $80 million renovation backlog.

Single-family housing starts have increased from 431 units in 1999 to a projected 758 in 2003. Presently, there are more than 7,000 proposed new units within Washington County, more than 2,000 units identified within the Hagerstown city limits alone.

The recent action by the Washington County Commissioners regarding the Adequate Public Funding Ordinance (APFO) is a positive step in establishing the infrastructure to support these proposed communities. It is essential that the city of Hagerstown adopt a similar APFO.

To address the present renovation backlog of $80 million and current level of inadequate funding, the Board of Education (BOE) proposed a bond issue with State Intercept Feature to the Washington County Commissioners and Washington County Delegation. To date, both groups have been nonsupportive of the proposal, nor have they reciprocated with any alternative proposal.

The WCPS operations system has also been a constant subject of study over the last decade, most recently in a report dated May 2002. In March and April of 2002, a Management Review Team (MRT) of distinguished professionals within Washington County was formed to review the system.

The MRT study results indicate our public schools are competently run and are cost-effective. The employees engaged in these activities are dedicated to their work and deliver good value for taxpayer dollars. The MRT found no evidence of extensive waste, fraud, or gross negligence. There are no "frills," there are no significant excesses.

The MRT also identified more than 60 specific recommendations for improvement. To date, 75 percent have been completely implemented and 90 percent of the actionable recommendations are implemented.

The residents and companies within Washington County need to step up and advocate that the children of Washington County receive the quality education they so richly deserve.

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