WCPS pay raises would necessitate 'reduction in force'

Chief Financial Officer Chris South presented a slide show posing six scenarios to balance the budget

December 14, 2010|JULIE E. GREENE |

HAGERSTOWN — If the Washington County Board of Education decides to give its employees raises in the next fiscal year, “a reduction in force” will be necessary, according to preliminary budget information and scenarios presented to the board Tuesday.

But during a telephone interview later in the day, Board President Wayne Ridenour said it was too early in the budget process to say definitely whether there would be layoffs or not, and, as of now, he didn’t think there would be because of the school system’s history of turnover.

What’s more likely to happen is class sizes would increase because teaching vacancies wouldn’t be filled after retirements, Ridenour said. School system officials are anticipating fewer retirements in 2011 than in 2010.

Whether layoffs are needed will depend on how much money the school board must cut to balance the budget, Ridenour said.


The school board held its first public meeting about the fiscal 2011-12 budget Tuesday morning at the board office off Commonwealth Avenue in Hagerstown.

Chief Financial Officer Chris South presented a slide show posing six scenarios to balance the budget, given preliminary revenue and expense information. A full proposed budget was not presented Tuesday.

Before South’s presentation, Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said that, in many ways, the situation is worse than it was two years ago. Unemployment is up and there are indications the economic “downturn” will last longer than economists predicted, she said.

“We hope that the board will be very, very active in making these decisions. We haven’t handed you a done deal, so to speak,” Morgan said.

During the discussion after the presentation, board members asked about specific revenues and expenses, noting that asking about them didn’t indicate they were supporting going in that direction.

School board member Justin Hartings asked about savings if class sizes are increased, and board member Donna Brightman asked about getting county help for or deferring the annual contribution for post-employment benefits other than pensions.

State funding

 Two of the six scenarios South presented included a midyear pay increase of either a step or 2 percent cost-of-living raise for employees. The amount of budget cuts needed to balance the budget under those scenarios was either $2.2 million or $4.8 million, depending on whether certain state funding is restored, according to South’s presentation.

The current teachers’ union contract expires June 30, 2011, and the current contract for support personnel states the pay scale increase for the next fiscal year is to be negotiated.

A major revenue question mark is whether Gov. Martin O’Malley will restore $2.59 million in state funding that was supplanted by federal stimulus money during fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2011, South said. That federal stimulus money, known as State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, expires June 30, 2011, he said.

Other scenarios presented included two that called for no raises or new employees, and two that called for no raises, but the addition of 10 contingency positions to aid with growing enrollment.

During the last two to three years, the school board did not budget for such contingency positions, instead converting other jobs to teaching jobs, South said. The school system is running out of jobs it can convert to teaching positions, he said.

Pension question

Another issue that could drastically affect the budget is how quickly the school system or the County Commissioners will be asked to take on a share of the state pension fund, which includes teachers’ pensions.

Based on the school board’s Nov. 16 talks with state legislators, South said he wasn’t expecting that to occur until fiscal 2013, but board members W. Edward Forrest and Donna Brightman weren’t as optimistic that the school system wouldn’t feel that pinch this coming fiscal year.

Expense factors reviewed Tuesday included:

• A 15 percent or $3.72 million increase in health insurance premiums.

• The expected cost of replacing six lift buses and 11 standard buses for $1.74 million. State law requires buses to be replaced after 12 years, unless the school system gets a two-year waiver, South said. Ridenour said school system officials did not know yet whether the county would provide extra funding for the replacement buses.

• Additional staff to address growing enrollment, noted in two of the scenarios, would cost $640,000.

• Cover underfunding of pension and retirement plans for educational support personnel at a preliminary estimated cost of $300,000.

• Continuing the Summit Program, to be paid for with corresponding savings in nonpublic placement costs. Summit is a therapeutic support program that provides special education students a mix of individual or group services and general classroom experience in a school setting.

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