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'Modest' budget increase would expand programs, schools staff

February 07, 2006|by KAREN HANNA

WASHINGTON COUNTY

karenh@herald-mail.com

A $15.6 million spending boost from the state will allow Washington County Public Schools to limit its request for local money, said Chris South, director of budget and finance.

About 40 people, including more than a dozen school system representatives, attended a hearing Monday night on the $194.7 million draft operating budget, which includes $7.96 million for increases in employee pay and benefits for new and existing staff. In all, 79 new positions would be added to the staff, school officials said during a presentation of the budget.

The budget includes $3.36 million from the County Commissioners, which represents "really a modest increase," South said during a public hearing Monday.

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Donna Brightman, who is active on the Boonsboro High School Citizens Advisory Committee, noted the increases in recent budget years. She said she always has supported full funding for the school system's budget, "but when I look at that kind of increase, the other hat I wear is as a taxpayer."

For the second straight year, the system anticipates a state funding increase of about $15.6 million, South said.

The budget increases would pay for the expansion of the instrumental music and foreign languages programs, and full-day kindergarten classes, two new elementary school magnet programs and transportation for students involved in after-school activities, Deputy Superintendent Patricia Abernethy said.

With five major construction projects under way or in the works, Chief Operating Officer G. William Blum said money also has been included in the budget to pay for two new project managers.

Utility price hikes would cost $1.7 million more next fiscal year, Blum said.

The board will adopt a proposed budget for the County Commissioners' approval next month and the County Commissioners will vote on a final version later this spring, according to the board's budget calendar.

A member of a study group charged with looking into the magnet school programs, Stephanie Holder questioned whether the board could reach a wider variety of students by spending its money in ways other than increasing the magnet school programs.

"I have no problem with the magnet schools. My main concern is that the other students don't get left behind, too," Holder said after the meeting.

The mother of a Sharpsburg Elementary School kindergartner, Holder asked why the board does not ask for more money from the County Commissioners, since South said he believed the request was modest.

According to Blum, the burden of maintaining and building facilities will fall to the County Commissioners.

"When you look at it over a long period of time, they are going to pay big time for our schools," he said.




Draft budget increases outlined



Increases in Washington County Public Schools' $194.7 milllion draft operating budget for fiscal year 2007 include:

  • 79 additional full-time equivalent employees

  • Seven additional all-day kindergarten classes

  • New magnet programs at Boonsboro and Williamsport elementary schools

  • $1 million for 14 new buses

  • $1.7 million to pay for increased utility costs

  • $7.9 million for increases in employee compensation, retirement, health insurance and other benefits for new and existing staff

  • $137,500 for transportation for students involved in after-school programs
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