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'A lot of bang for their buck'

County's per-student spending is 23rd out of 24 in Md.

County's per-student spending is 23rd out of 24 in Md.

January 08, 2007|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN - Washington County ranks next to last in Maryland in annual spending per student, according to state data, but county school officials say taxpayers are getting "a lot of bang for their buck."

The county's general fund cost per student is $8,530, about $1,100 below the state average. The general fund - also called an operating budget - includes money that pays for day-to-day school functions like instruction and transportation.

Montgomery County spends the most per student in Maryland at $11,772, while Harford County ($8,263 per student) spends the least, according to state data from fiscal year 2006.

"Even though we spend less, and are 23rd out of 24 school systems, we traditionally have performed in the top 25 percent of school systems (in testing)," Chief Financial Officer Chris South said. "Taxpayers are getting a lot of bang for their buck."

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The per-student expenditure is expected to rise to $9,171 in the budgeted 2007 fiscal year, South said.

The amount of money spent per student in Washington County has nearly doubled since fiscal year 1997, according to data provided by South. In fiscal year 1997, Washington County spent $4,905 for each of its 19,619 students.

Fiscal year 2008 will be the last year of the five-year phase-in of "Thornton funding," which increased state funding for public schools in Maryland.

In fiscal year 2007, 42.4 percent of the budgeted general fund comes from county funds and 57.1 percent comes from the state. The remainder comes from federal funds and other sources.

In fiscal year 2006, 45.6 percent of general fund revenue for the school system came from county funding, according to data provided by South. The state contributed 53.8 percent of the funding, and the remainder came from federal funds and other sources.

South said because Thornton funding has increased operating fund money from the state, the county has focused its dollars more on the school system's capital needs.

In fiscal year 2007, 66 percent of the school system's budgeted $193 million general fund has been earmarked for instruction, student services and special education, South said. Another 15.3 percent of the budgeted amount will go to employee benefits, and 11.9 percent has been budgeted for maintenance.

In that same fiscal year, 4 percent has been set aside for transportation, and 2.8 percent will be spent on administration, South said.

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