Speakers back school budget

March 15, 2006|by KAREN HANNA


For high school student-athlete Matthew Amalfitano, school is about more than just classes. "I'm involved in these activities because they are there, and they are offered. We need money to keep these activities," said Matthew, who participates in several committees and plays varsity football and lacrosse at North Hagerstown High School.

Matthew, 16, was among more than a dozen speakers Tuesday who encouraged the Washington County Commissioners to fully fund the Board of Education's proposed $195,866,795 operating budget. Only one speaker at the public hearing at Hagerstown Community College's Kepler Theater suggested the County Commissioners deny the school board some of its $84,652,499 request.

This year's operating budget is $176,391,178. If it's approved, the proposed budget would include an increase in funding from the County Commissioners of more than $4 million. According to Chris South, school system director of budget and finance, about $1.8 million of the increase is maintenance of effort ? the amount of money required by the state to continue running the schools at their current level.


Tom Janus, a frequent critic of the school board who described himself as a "keen .. analysis person and numbers cruncher," told the Commissioners they should do only what the law requires.

Speaking after several parents had commented about after-school opportunities and magnet programs, Janus said he believed the school system should focus its efforts on under-performing students.

"I'm interested in that one in four (students) who ain't getting it, and that's where the money needs to go ..." Janus said.

The board's proposed spending increases include new magnet programs at Boonsboro and Williamsport elementary schools, 14 new buses and more than $8.8 million toward employee pay and benefits. The budget would fund an additional 1 percent raise for all employees. A previous draft budget had included money for a 0.8 percent increase.

In a presentation before the public comments began, board member Roxanne R. Ober listed for the Commissioners several of the teaching vacancies the school system still has not filled.

"Why can't we fill those positions? In some cases, we don't pay enough," Ober said.

As a father of three students in the school system, Mike Sparks asked the Commissioners to fully fund the budget. While one child attends Fountain Rock Elementary School, Sparks said he takes his 11-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son to the magnet program at Fountaindale Elementary School.

"I drive my kids 25 minutes to and from school because the program makes a difference," Sparks said.

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