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3 speak on proposed schools budget

March 10, 2009|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- The Washington County Board of Education heard one compliment and two criticisms Tuesday about a proposed $232.7 million operating budget for fiscal year 2010.

The school board approved a final draft of the budget last week. After another review by the board next week, the proposal will go to the Washington County Commissioners for approval.

The draft spending plan is 3.1 percent higher than this year's $225.6 million budget.

Chris South, the school system's chief financial officer, has said the commissioners are likely to separate $1.4 million to buy new school buses. If that's excluded, the proposed spending increase would be 2.1 percent.

Reading a statement, Russell F. Williams II --president of the Washington County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People -- praised the school system's educational philosophy, which he said the NAACP supports.

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"The overall goal of the NAACP National Education Department is to ensure that all students have access to an equal and high-quality public education by eliminating all education-related and ethnic disparities," his statement says.

Williams served on the school board from 2002-06.

Debbie Green challenged the school system's spending on special education, calling it inadequate to meet a multiyear master plan.

"This is not good stewardship," she concluded.

Green said she runs a volunteer program called Zero Tolerance that helps special-needs children.

After the hearing, Michael Markoe, the district's assistant superintendent for elementary instruction, provided a copy of data showing special-education spending increasing from $23 million to $24.5 million to $26.3 million the last three budget years.

Gina Burkett made the only other public comment on the budget proposal. She alleged the district had "an inflated amount" for legal fees.

Burkett said she's battled the school system over what she characterized as a misleading interpretation of a policy for home and hospital teaching.

Actually, the large increase she pointed to was not proposed for fiscal year 2010.

A budget document shows legal fees rising from $34,000 in fiscal year 2008 to $445,000 in fiscal year 2009. The amount budgeted for fiscal year 2010 is $95,000.

Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said the proposed budget reflects the district's philosophy of avoiding layoffs and other cuts that would affect classrooms or the community.

A Budget Advocacy and Review Committee said it supports the budget plan, except for $150,000 for a Boonsboro High School sports meeting room.

But Morgan and board members Wayne D. Ridenour and Justin M. Hartings spoke in favor of the meeting room, which would be built in partnership with a booster group.

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