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Only two turn out to discuss BOE budget

March 08, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Tom Janus speak Tuesday about the Washington County School Board budget at a public hearing.
By Ric Dugan, Staff Photographer

Only two people signed up to speak before the Washington County Board of Education about its $241.7 million draft budget during a roughly 30-minute public hearing Tuesday night.

That's down from last year's hearing when only six people spoke during a meeting that lasted less than 45 minutes and included a break.

Tuesday night's hearing at the central office off Commonwealth Avenue also included a break, a 10-minute recess board President Wayne Ridenour called in case someone showed up by 7 p.m. who wanted to sign up to speak. No one else did.

"I really can't put my finger on it," said Ridenour, when asked about the low turnout after the hearing.

Perhaps it's a credit to the staff and how things are "well organized and seemingly under control," Ridenour said.

"I think everybody, when something hits close to home, will come out and advocate for it," Ridenour said.

T. Scott Miller, chief negotiator for the Washington County Teachers Association and Washington County Educational Support Personnel, and Hagerstown-area resident Tom Janus were the only two members of the public who spoke during the hearing.

Miller said both employee groups had to forgo step and salary increases for this fiscal year. He asked the board to enhance compensation, including "step recovery" and the benefit plan so the school system could maintain and attract high quality employees.

The teachers union has about 1,400 members. The support personnel union has about 500 members, but the union bargains on behalf of approximately 1,100 support personnel, Miller has said.

During a brief overview of the draft budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, Chief Financial Officer Chris South noted that more than 85 percent of the school system's costs are personnel-related. That makes it difficult to absorb revenue cuts or spending increases without affecting students and employees, he said.

Janus told the board more information about the budget should be provided for the public.

"This budget lacks transparency and is missing written analysis of major line items that will allow the public to hold the elected board accountable for taxpayer education dollars," Janus said.

Later in the hearing, school system officials pointed out there had been at least three budget work sessions.

The school board must present its budget to the Washington County Commissioners on March 29.

The $149.4 million in state funding in the proposed school budget is not set yet because the General Assembly still has to approve the state budget. The state legislative session isn't scheduled to end until April 11, South said.

Among the budget uncertainties is whether the state will start passing along the cost of the state pension, which includes teachers' pensions, to local school systems next fiscal year.

Another uncertainty is whether Allegany County Public Schools will still allow about 44 Allegany County youths to attend Hancock Middle-Senior High School, South said.

If Allegany ends that agreement, Washington County schools will lose about $200,000 in the next fiscal year that would have come from Allegany County, South said.

The state funding Washington County receives for those students would stop in fiscal 2012-2013 because the state bases its funding on student enrollment in the prior September, he said.

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