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School board submits budget

March 24, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The importance of education and planned public school improvements were cited by most of the people who spoke at a public hearing Tuesday on the Washington County Board of Education's proposed $158.3 million operating budget.

Eight people out of an estimated 150 who attended the hearing urged the Washington County Commissioners to approve the amount proposed for school funding for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Only Tom Janus, a write-in candidate for the Board of Education, spoke against the commissioners adopting the budget. He argued that the schools are adequately funded.

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Another speaker, Stephen Hummel, raised the subject of the proposed county airport runway expansion, an estimated $60 million project that has drawn some public complaint.

Hummel, vice president of branch administration for Hagerstown Trust and chairman of the school board's Budget Advocacy and Review Committee - a volunteer position - said he often is asked by people moving to the area about the quality of the school system.

"They really never ask me how nice the runway is," he said.

Although much of the funding for the runway expansion is to come from the state and federal government, some of the local money would come from the county's general fund, commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said after the hearing. The general fund is also the source of money for the Board of Education.

The school board's budget was officially presented to the commissioners for the first time at Tuesday's public hearing in Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater.

At its March 16 meeting, the Board of Education unanimously approved a proposed fiscal 2005 general fund operating budget that is $13.5 million, or 9.3 percent, above the current budget.

The school board is asking the County Commissioners to contribute $4.7 million of the $13.5 million increase, for a total county contribution of $78.7 million.

The largest portion of the $13.5 million in additional spending would be $4.7 million for increasing salaries and health-care costs, Chief Operating Officer William Blum said.

Janus used a visual aid in making his case against the budget request - a chart with the title "Money for nothing: Education spending rises but test scores are flat."

He has made similar presentations at recent school board meetings.

Jim Powers, representing the American Federation of Musicians, Local 770, thanked the Board of Education for returning music programs to some schools. He asked the commissioners to provide money so music programs can be restored to all schools.

Claude Sasse, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, said he applauds the Board of Education for including money in the budget to increase the number of mentor teachers it employs.

Two parents of students in the magnet program at Fountaindale Elementary School described their children's educational growth and improvements as a result of the classes. They urged the county government to provide money so existing magnet programs can be expanded and new ones can be started.

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