During Tuesday's school board meeting, David Manganaro, whose daughter attends Greenbrier Elementary School, questioned the school district's increase in spending in recent years.
The operating budget grew from $109 million in 1999 to $233 million for the coming fiscal year, a 114 percent increase.
Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan told Manganaro that higher spending is a result of higher state funding after many years in which Washington County was underfunded.
Most of the $70 million the school system received from the state in about four years went to classroom instruction, she said.
Denise D. Fry, president of the Washington County Teachers Association, agreed with Morgan's characterization. She said much of the cost of instruction is salaries.
The bulk of the $141.2 million for instructional programs in the fiscal year 2010 operating budget is $80 million for classroom instruction.
The next-largest expenses in that category are $14.8 million for special-education programs within the school system, and $12.8 million for principals and school staff.
The proposed $232.7 million operating budget calls for 3.1 percent higher spending than the current $225.6 million budget.
If $1.4 million to buy 14 buses is funded separately, the operating budget increase is 2.1 percent, according to Chris South, the school system's chief financial officer.
Morgan has said it was important for the district to avoid layoffs and furloughs, and to honor its labor agreements.
Last year, the school system agreed to new contracts with its teachers and its support personnel.
Teachers received a 2 percent increase this year. They will get raises of 2 percent in 2010 and 3 percent in 2011.
Support personnel -- including paraprofessionals, bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, food service workers and others -- will get a 2 percent raise plus a step increase in the 2009-10 school year and a 3 percent raise the next year. Pay increases this year vary by individual.
Fry said maybe half of other Maryland counties are renegotiating teacher contracts because of budget shortfalls.
"There's something to be said for being fiscally conservative," Fry said of Washington County, which is 24th in the state out of 24 school systems in per-pupil spending.
South has said the school system found $5.3 million in savings to offset increases in the new budget proposal.
The district is asking the county commissioners for $3.7 million, or 4.3 percent, more in fiscal year 2010 than this year, according to a summary of the budget proposal.
That includes $1.4 million for new buses and $2.1 million for retiree benefits.
The school system plans to fill 17 new full-time-equivalent positions in the new budget, several of which would be for the new Barbara Ingram School for the Arts opening in August.
The budget also includes $150,000 to help build sports meeting rooms and bathrooms at Boonsboro High School.
In September 2008, the total project cost was expected to be about $250,000. The Boonsboro Athletic Boosters have been raising the rest.
The school district's Budget Advocacy and Review Committee told the board it supported everything in the budget proposal except the sports meeting room money, but Morgan and two board members defended the expense.
Summary of school district expenses
How the Washington County Public Schools proposed fiscal year 2010 operating budget is divided:
o Instructional programs: $141.24 million
o Student/staff support programs: $85.14 million
o Administrative services: $6.30 million
Total: $232.68 million
Instructional programs include:
o Classroom instructional programs: $80.0 million
o Special-education programs: $14.8 million
o School principals and school staffs: $12.8 million
o Career technology programs: $5.1 million
Student/staff support programs include:
o Facilities operations programs: $19.1 million
o Student transportation programs: $11.1 million
o Facilities maintenance programs: $7.3 million
Administrative services include:
o Human resources services: $1.4 million
o Printing services: $1.2 million
o Elected board member services: $560,875
Take a look at the proposed fiscal year 2010 Washington County Schools operating budget. Under "Budget & Finance," click on "Fiscal Year 2010 Draft Budget."