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Proposed budget for Washington County Public Schools shows tightening

Superintendent Clayton Wilcox presenting plan Tuesday to Board of Education

March 05, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Clayton Wilcox
Clayton Wilcox

WASHINGTON COUNTY — In developing his proposed $246 million balanced budget for Washington County Public Schools’ general fund, Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said he wanted to determine whether the school system was set up to deliver services effectively and efficiently.

The resulting proposed budget shows tightening in some areas, including a restructuring of instructional supervisors at the central office. Instead of having separate supervisors for elementary and secondary schools for core subjects such as math, subject supervisors will cover kindergarten through 12th grade.

Wilcox also is proposing the school system buy a bus-wash system for $175,000. The washing system will save the school system money in overtime for the employees who now wash buses by hand, as well as reduce wear and tear on the buses, Wilcox said Monday as he previewed the budget with a reporter at the school system’s central office.

What the slide show for his budget presentation doesn’t mention is the possible shift of teacher pension costs from the state to local jurisdictions such as Washington County.

Gov. Martin O’Malley has proposed passing along those costs in the upcoming fiscal year. Lawmakers from several counties oppose the move and there’s been some talk about trying to phase in the cost shift to local jurisdictions.

School system officials wouldn’t budget a reserve for the pension shift, but know where they could find money — at the cost of other programs — to pay pension costs, Wilcox said.

The unknowns include how much of the pension costs will be shifted with the next budget year and whether those costs will be directly passed to the county or the school system.

School system officials have heard that the county’s full liability for pension costs, including the school system, Hagerstown Community College and Washington County Free Library employees could be as high as an estimated $4,630,983, school system spokesman Richard Wright said.

Getting better information on the pension and maintenance-of-effort issues state lawmakers are discussing, getting a better idea of the amount of state funding the school system can expect and settling contract issues with all three employee groups have led the school system to run a little behind this year in the budget process.

Wilcox will present his proposed $245,953,614 budget during the 1 p.m. board of education meeting Tuesday at the school system’s central office off Commonwealth Avenue. That’s a 1.74 percent increase over the $241,754,545 budget for the current fiscal year.

This is the first proposed budget for Washington County Public Schools that was overseen by Wilcox, who was hired last summer.

If the board approves the revised budget calendar as it now stands, a public hearing on the proposed budget will be at 7 p.m. March 20 in the board auditorium at the central office. Board members would vote on whether to adopt the budget after that hearing, although Wilcox said board members might delay the vote if there is a lot of feedback from residents attending the budget hearing.

School system officials anticipate a $4.2 million increase in local and state revenue, and Wilcox and his staff came up with $3.2 million in budget cuts for the fiscal year starting July 1.

Of the combined $7.4 million from increased revenue and budget cuts, $4,674,190 would cover salary increases the school board recently approved for its three employee groups.

Some of it would be used to cover increasing costs such as water, sewer, gasoline and diesel fuel for school buses; a 1 percent increase in the health insurance premium that costs $278,175; and picking up $175,000 for four school nurses for a program for which the Washington County Health Department reduced funding. The school system started picking up those school nursing costs during the current school year.

Wilcox also wants to purchase the bus-wash system with $175,000 from the school system’s prior years’ surplus fund; buy more school security cameras for $84,000; and, for $112,040, continue a pilot teacher-evaluation program that is mostly paid for with a federal grant.

Software systems to help tie student and teacher performance with teacher compensation, because of changes in the way teachers will be evaluated, would cost $1.5 million.

Wilcox’s proposed budget cuts include saving $384,423 by eliminating three positions that have been vacant since July 1, 2011 — director of system development, executive assistant/ombudsman and supervisor for the Center for Peak Performance & Productivity.

He is proposing reducing some budget line items because they were overbudgeted.

Those include a $344,875 reduction because only 15 school buses need to be replaced next school year instead of the 17 replaced this school year. Expenditures for adjunct faculty hours at Barbara Ingram School for the Arts would be cut by $100,000 because the item was overbudgeted, but the school won’t lose anything because of the reduction, Wilcox said.

The school system expects to save $1.6 million in salaries during the current fiscal year because of employee turnover, with younger or less-experienced people hired to replace retiring employees who were at the higher end of the pay scale.

On the revenue side, the latest state-aid figure the school system had from the Maryland State Department of Education called for a $4.127 million increase for the school system, for a total of $155 million.

The school system is asking the county for $89,857,481, an increase of $339,171, for maintenance of effort. Maintenance of effort requires counties to provide school systems with at least as much per-student funding as the previous year. There has been discussion on the state level about changes to maintenance of effort.

The school system expects to lose $442,000 from various revenue sources, including $50,000 in interest income from investments.

For more information

Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 is available at the school system’s website at www.wcps.k12.md.us.

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