The Washington County Board of Education voted 7-0 Tuesday afternoon to take a $241.7 million draft budget to public hearing next week.
That's a $10.9 million or 4.7 percent increase over the current fiscal year's budget of $230.9 million, according to a copy of the draft budget.
The vote during the afternoon business meeting at the Central Office off Commonwealth Avenue followed a morning budget work session in which the school system's chief financial officer repeatedly cautioned the board about uncertainties regarding the state's final funding figure for the school system and whether a share of the state pension costs could be moved to local school systems in the upcoming fiscal year.
Chief Financial Officer Chris South also emphasized uncertainties about future budget years.
Washington County Public Schools was one of nine school systems in the state to see an increase in state funding for fiscal year 2011-12, which starts July 1, South said. But state funding could decrease for the following fiscal year if the county's economy improves, he said.
The school system's state funding is tentatively expected to increase $9.61 million, compared with a projected $6.98 million increase South said in January was in the governor's proposed budget.
The school system's draft budget calls for $149.4 million in state funding and $91.3 million in county funding.
The state budget might not be finalized until April 11, two weeks after the school board must present its budget to the Washington County Commissioners on March 29, South said.
The state funding increase for next fiscal year is due to an increase in enrollment of about 250 students as of last fall; a 2 percent increase in the number of students who receive free or reduced-price meals; and the county's wealth, South said.
The county's wealth is based on revenues such as income taxes, real estate taxes and personal property taxes, South said.
"Good news for our budget, but reflects what has been bad news for the county," board member Justin Hartings said.
The school board still doesn't know whether state pension costs, which include teachers' pensions, will begin being passed to local school systems next fiscal year, or in fiscal 2013 or 2014.
The school system has budgeted $5.2 million as a contingency in case those costs start arriving in fiscal 2012, South said.
If they aren't passed down next year, the board will have to decide whether to save the money, use it for nonrecurring costs or use it for recurring costs, South said.
Board member W. Edward Forrest urged fellow board members to be careful with how they handle that money if pension costs don't arrive locally next year.
If the $5.2 million isn't needed for pension costs next fiscal year, Forrest said he didn't think all of it should go to recurring costs, such as salaries and benefits. If all of it was used for recurring costs, the board could have trouble in the following fiscal years finding money to pay pension costs, if they are passed down, he said.
Forrest also pointed out that the drop in the expected health insurance premium increase, from 15 percent to 10 percent, is due in large part to changes made in employee deductibles and co-pays.
Forrest said the school system still doesn't know how federal health care legislation will affect insurance premiums.
While the proposed budget is balanced, the school board doesn't yet know whether the county will provide $1.74 million for replacement buses.
A majority of school board members agreed informally in January to ask the county to pay for the buses, in addition to the county's maintenance of effort or obligated funding for the school system. If the commissioners say no, the board informally agreed in January to pay for the buses using past surpluses.
The draft budget includes making permanent four part-time bus drivers, which the school system added in the fall with substitute drivers due to increased enrollment, South said.
The proposed budget also includes money for two vacant positions — executive director of facilities and management, and supervisor for the Center for Peak Performance & Productivity, which handles staff development, South said.
To see a copy of the draft budget, go to www.wcps.k12.md.us. For a hard copy, call the Budget and Finance Department at 301-766-2826.