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School board hears public's view of budget

February 25, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

With a framed picture of her 4-year-old autistic child on the table next to her, the mother of a Washington County public school student made a plea Tuesday for the school system's special education program to be fully funded.

During the school board's public hearing on the $158.3 million draft budget, Cindy Hill told the board and an audience of about 50 about the progress of her son, Luke, in the last two years. She attributed some of his progress to the work of school board employees.

Hill was one of six people who spoke at Tuesday's hearing at the school board's auditorium on the proposed budget for the 2004-05 fiscal year that starts July 1.

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The school board voted unanimously Feb. 17 to take the draft budget to a public hearing.

Hill said every child is entitled to an education and she is pleased with the one being provided to her son, who is in pre-kindergarten.

"Look what it has done for my son," she said, after asking for the special education budget to be fully funded. Members of the crowd applauded - the only time it did so during the hearing - as she walked to her seat.

Her comments followed a presentation summarizing the budget by two administrators.

Nancy Foltz, who started teaching at Western Heights Middle School this school year, spoke in favor of mentor resource teachers. The mentor teachers provide a great sounding board, especially for teachers new to the system, she said.

"I could not have done it without them," Foltz said. But, she said, "We really need more."

The proposed budget calls for increasing the number of mentor teachers from three to seven, school board spokeswoman Carol Mowen said.

The only person who spoke at the hearing who criticized the budget was Tom Janus, one of 14 people running for four open seats on the school board.

Janus questioned why the amount of money going to education continues to increase at a rate higher than that of test scores. He also questioned whether the school system is doing all it can to ensure all students are getting the best education possible.

The school board and board administrators are telling the public what size budget they want without adequately explaining what they are doing with the money, Janus said.

After his remarks, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said she thought the board has explained "in the greatest detail" how the money is spent.

Morgan said the budget is based on the Master Plan, a strategic five-year plan developed with community input.

The proposed budget calls for increased spending of $13.5 million over the $144.8 million in the current fiscal year's budget, according to budget documents.

Chris South, the school board's budget and finance director, said the budget is a 9.3 percent increase over that of the current fiscal year.

The budget asks the Washington County Commissioners for $78.7 million, a $4.7 million increase over what the county is providing for the current fiscal year, school system officials have said.

The county funding increase, if approved, would help pay for salary increases and rising health-insurance costs, system officials say.

"Full local funding is critical to this budget," William Blum, the school system's chief operating officer, said during the presentation to the school board.

The school board's budget calendar calls for the board to adopt the budget March 16 and present it to the Washington County Commissioners on March 23.

The school board's budget calendar and a written presentation on the budget are accessible on the Internet at www.wcboe.k12.md.us/content/pi_05budgetprocess.cfm.

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