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Washington Co. school budget approved, but might be affected by pension costs

March 20, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com
  • Washington County Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Chris South presents the proposed fiscal 2013 budget to the school board Tuesday night. Only a handful of people attended the hearing.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

HAGERSTOWN — The Washington County Board of Education voted 6-1 Tuesday night to approve a $246 million balanced general fund budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1.

However, the budget does not address the possibility of teacher pension costs being shifted from the state to the school system in the coming fiscal year.

State lawmakers are expected to approve a budget by early April. The Senate version of the pension plan would be phased in over four years and, with offsets, leave Washington County ahead by $392,000 in the first year, but present the county with increasing losses in following years.

The House Appropriations Committee’s pension plan would be phased in over three years and leave the county with a $1.8 million net loss in the first year, according to Ardath Cade, a lobbyist for the school system.

If pension costs are shifted to local government and specifically to the school system for the coming fiscal year, school board President Wayne Ridenour said prior to Tuesday’s meeting that the board would have to figure out where to make cuts.

Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox probably has some ideas, but the board would have to approve the cuts, Ridenour said.

If the board does have to go back and make cuts to the budget to cover pension costs, there’s a possibility it could have a second hearing to allow the public to comment on the proposed cuts, Ridenour said.

Board member W. Edward Forrest was the only one of the seven board members to vote against approving the budget. With the state of the economy bleak and the outlook uncertain, Forrest said he preferred a more conservative approach and for the school system to “play it a little safer.”

Forrest voted against salary increases for teachers and support personnel in February, stating that new revenue from the state is “less than certain.”

The school board must present its budget to the Washington County Board of Commissioners.

Only one person signed up to speak at Tuesday night’s budget hearing.

Hagerstown resident Janet Bartels asked the board to reconsider spending $175,000 for a bus-washing system and instead spend the money to add an edible schoolyard curriculum at Bester Elementary School in Hagerstown’s South End.

An edible schoolyard is an organic vegetable garden and kitchen classroom that allows elementary school students to participate in growing, harvesting and preparing seasonal produce, Janet Bartels has said.

How they voted
Here is how Washington County Board of Education members voted on a $246 million  budget for fiscal 2013:
• Wayne Ridenour Yes
• Jacqueline Fischer Yes
• Paul Bailey Yes
• Donna Brightman Yes
• W. Edward Forrest No
• Karen Harshman Yes
• Justin Hartings Yes

Staff Writer Andrew Schotz contributed to this story.

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