School officials mull options to shore up deficit

November 10, 2009|By DAN DEARTH

HAGERSTOWN -- Washington County Public Schools officials said Tuesday they won't rule out laying off employees to help reduce a potential $9.2 million deficit in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The discussion about layoffs occupied a good portion of a meeting between the Washington County Board of Education and the Washington County Delegation. The meeting was held so the school board could provide the delegation with its legislative priorities for the 2010 session of the Maryland General Assembly.

"What is the Washington County school system's plan to save money?" Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, asked. "What is the board of education's plan if the dollars aren't there to stay in business?"

Gov. Martin O'Malley last month asked superintendents from the state's 24 school districts to find ways to reduce spending in an effort to help the state cut a projected $2 billion shortfall next year in the state's $13 billion operational budget.


Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said school systems across the state could save money if the delegation helped convince the General Assembly to suspend unfunded mandates.

She said, for example, the state requires public school systems to replace buses after 12 years of service. That mandate cost the system about $1.2 million to replace 13 buses in fiscal year 2008, said Chris South, chief fiscal officer for Washington County Public Schools.

Morgan said after the meeting that layoffs would be a last resort.

"It's my lowest preference to lay off staff," Morgan said.

Morgan said about 85 percent, or roughly $229.5 million, of the school system's $270 million budget is linked to salaries and benefits for employees.

She said schools officials plan this week to provide employees and parents with a survey that will ask them to rank eight proposals to reduce expenses.

Two of those proposals include reducing "instructional staff by increasing class size" and eliminating some "extra-curricular opportunities for students outside the academic day such as athletics, clubs, band, etc."

Morgan said the surveys will be sent home with students and delivered to employees to save mailing costs.

Morgan said she won't suggest making cuts until the General Assembly issues preliminary budget figures next year to show how schools would be affected by reductions in state funding. In addition, schools officials want to await the results of the survey and the outcome of ongoing negotiations with the unions that represent Washington County Public Schools employees, Morgan said.

She said system officials also intend to stretch the use of computers and textbooks to save money.

If layoffs should become necessary, employees with the least seniority would be the first to go, Morgan said.

Board member Paul Bailey said the school system hasn't reduced staff since 1992.

Proposed options to save money

The following is a list of proposals for saving money that Washington County Public Schools officials will ask employees and parents to rank:

o Reduce extracurricular opportunities for students outside the academic day such as athletics, clubs, band, etc.

o Reduce funding dedicated to specific academic programs such as enrichment, arts, interventions and summer school.

o Reduce instructional staff by increasing class size.

o Reduce non-instructional staff.

o Reduce expenditures related to staff salaries and benefits, and implement other personnel actions such as hiring freezes.

o Reduce funding dedicated to instructional textbooks, materials and technology upgrades.

o Reduce funding dedicated to school facilities such as cleaning and maintenance.

o Reduce opportunities for professional development for staff.

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