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Schools eye 'perfect storm of funding'

February 16, 2005|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Sixty-five new teaching positions are among the 96.5 new positions the Washington County Board of Education's staff is calling for in a $176.6 million proposed general fund budget.

The school system expects to receive $15.8 million more from the state for the fiscal year starting July 1, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said Tuesday. School system administrators had only expected to get $8 million to $9 million more from the state, Morgan said.

Overall, the school board's staff is recommending a 12.5 percent, or $19.6 million, increase from the current fiscal year's $157 million operating budget, according to figures provided by Chris South, director of budget & finance.

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Morgan said this is the biggest operating budget increase and largest state funding increase in the school system's history.

The school board is scheduled to vote to adopt a draft budget at its March 1 meeting. A public hearing on the budget is set for 7 p.m. on March 8 in the school board auditorium.

The state funding increase is due to a "perfect storm of funding" or the combination of increasing enrollment and the school system's ability to better identify students who qualify for free or reduced lunch prices, Morgan said.

Morgan said she is confident the school system's growing enrollment will mean the state will not reduce funding in the future, meaning the school system can continue to pay for the new positions it wants.

That could change if the state radically changes the state funding formula, but Morgan said she doesn't expect that to happen.

Morgan and her staff discussed the proposed budget during a work session Tuesday morning.

Morgan said she anticipated the school board would ask the Washington County Commissioners for an approximately $3.8 million increase over the current year's funding level. That includes the state-mandated "maintenance of effort" to increase money for additional enrollment and for 23 more school buses, officials said.

For the current fiscal year, the county is contributing $77.9 million to the board's general fund, according to South.

The new positions include 12 new elementary classroom teachers and 20 new high school classroom teachers, Deputy Superintendent for Instruction Patricia Abernethy said.

Morgan and Abernethy would not say which elementary schools are tentatively set to add or lose teaching positions because those schools had not been notified yet.

Tentative plans for eight of the new high school positions to go to South Hagerstown High School, Abernethy said. Boonsboro High would get three, Clear Spring High two and North Hagerstown High, Smithsburg High and Williamsport High would get one each, she said.

The proposed budget includes $10.6 million more for increases related to employee compensation, retirement, health insurance and other benefits, according to a budget document.

The state funding increase gives the school system an opportunity to catch up on the backlog of maintenance projects, Morgan said.

Those projects include $247,874 to replace theater lighting, a sound system and scoreboards and $155,000 to provide bleachers at Boonsboro and Clear Spring high schools, according to the budget document.

The proposed budget also includes money for staff, materials and buses to start an autism center next school year.

The school system has approximately 85 to 90 autistic students, many of whom are in mainstream classes, said Michael D. Markoe, director of student services.

School system officials are looking at putting the center in a Hagerstown area school because most of the autistic students are in that area, Markoe said. The center would divide classes among the 2 1/2 to 4 age group and the 5 to 8 age group, he said.

School board members discussed and debated their own desired changes to the proposed budget. Administrative staff will review those suggestions and bring back a revised budget, Morgan said.

Board member Bernadette Wagner asked about operating money for North High's new stadium because operating funds are slated to go toward athletic facilities improvements.

Typically, money for new facilities comes from the capital improvement projects (CIP) budget, administrators said.

Board officials discussed whether the board should contribute money toward the stadium and whether the money should come from the CIP instead of the operating budget.

After the meeting, Morgan said staff will review how capital projects get funded and see if there is room in the CIP budget for the stadium.

Fund raising for the stadium has been a private effort, school board officials said.




Highlights from Washington County Public Schools staff's recommended budget for 2005-06

-- 96.5 new positions, including 65 teachers. Includes 12 elementary classroom teachers (grades 1 to 5), 16 high school teachers, four high school teachers for academic interventions, three teachers for Antietam Academy and seven kindergarten teachers. The figure also includes several instructional assistants.

-- $255,000 to resurface tracks at Smithsburg and Williamsport high schools.

-- $247,874 for electrical repairs to replace theater lighting, sound system and scoreboards.

-- $250,000 for electronic time clock software to keep track of overtime.

-- An additional $862,497 for the increased cost of electricity due to deregulation and market conditions.

-- $748,000 to replace 11 school buses.

-- $612,000 for nine school buses to accommodate enrollment growth.

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