Washington County school officials present budget to county commissioners

March 29, 2011|By JULIE E. GREENE |
  • Washington County Board of Education member Donna Brightman confers Tuesday with Washington County Commissioner John Barr after a joint meeting at the county administration building.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

WASHINGTON COUNTY — The Washington County school system might have to pick up the cost of replacement school buses, crossing guards and the salary of the Judy Center’s program manager as county government officials scramble to close a $7.4 million budget shortfall.

Officials have no intention of filing for a waiver that would permit the county to avoid paying full maintenance of effort for the next fiscal year, which is its obligated funding for the school system, County Administrator Greg Murray said after a joint meeting between the Washington County Board of Commissioners and the Washington County Board of Education Tuesday morning.

However, county staffers have recommended cutting funding for the buses, crossing guards and the Judy Center’s program manager to help close the shortfall, according to a list of proposed budget cuts provided by the county. The money for those programs would have been above maintenance of effort.

School officials presented their proposed budget to the commissioners during Tuesday morning’s joint meeting, which was held in the County Administration Building in downtown Hagerstown. The commissioners did not make any decisions regarding cuts to the school system’s budget request during the meeting.

“The big elephant in the room is still the pension,” school board President Wayne Ridenour said after the meeting.

The school system has set aside $5.2 million in case state lawmakers decide to start passing pension costs to local governments in the fiscal year that starts July 1.

For the school system, that includes pension costs for teachers and administrators. The school system already pays pension costs for support personnel, said Chris South, the school system’s chief financial officer, during Tuesday’s meeting.

Asked after the meeting whether the $5.2 million would cover the cost of the buses, crossing guards and Judy Center costs, if not needed for pension costs, South said he thought it would.

According to figures provided by South and budget documents, the school system’s funding request to the county for those three items totaled $2,144,123.

But if the pension responsibility starts this summer, the school board will have to go “back to the drawing board” on the proposed budget, Ridenour said.

“We’re just holding our breath,” Ridenour said.

The school system is asking the county for $89,518,305 for maintenance of effort, a $1,084,575 increase from the current fiscal year.

The school system also asked for $1,735,000 to replace buses. The school system originally planned to buy 12 buses, but got a good deal on pricing, so it plans to buy 15.

Another way to pay for the buses is to use surplus funds from past budget years. A majority of school board members already agreed informally to use surplus funds to pay for the buses if the county didn’t provide extra money for them.

Funding gap

For the current fiscal year, county grants provide $324,650 for crossing guards and $71,410 for the Judy Center program manager, according to a copy of the school system’s restricted funds budget found on its website.

For the next fiscal year, the school system was asking for county grants to pay $335,049 for crossing guards and $74,074 for the Judy Center program manager, South said.

Those grants are not part of the general fund budget, South said.

The Judy Center partners with other agencies to provide educational programs for children and adults of low-income families in the Bester and Winter Street school districts, Program Manager Kathy Kerns said. Programs include a prekindergarten program at Bester Elementary for 3-year-olds that the Judy Center funds, she said.

Kerns said her duties include writing grants, overseeing programs, running management meetings and serving on advisory boards for the partner agencies.

The school system also receives $323,333 in state grant funding for the Judy Center, according to the restricted funds budget.

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