Washington Co. schools to add deputy, Hagerstown officer to resource force

March 12, 2013|By JULIE E. GREENE |

HAGERSTOWN — Washington County Public Schools plan to add two school resource officers for the start of next school year, school system spokesman Richard Wright said.

A Washington County Sheriff’s deputy would have an office at Clear Spring High School and would focus on schools in the western part of the county, including the Clear Spring and Hancock areas, Wright said. A Hagerstown Police officer will focus on the Evening High School, which occurs at Antietam Academy, and help elsewhere.

The two additional resource officers are included in the Board of Education’s proposed $254 million operating budget for the fiscal year that starts on July 1, school system officials said.

The overtime fund for the school resource officers will be reduced to help pay for the two new officers, though there would still be funds to pay for overtime when needed, Schools Superintendent Clayton Wilcox said after Tuesday’s public hearing on the school board’s proposed budget.

The school system needs the city’s and county’s help to make the additional officers a reality, Wilcox said. Sheriff Douglas W. Mullendore is asking the County Commissioners for money to support the program, Wilcox said.

One person spoke up during the public comment section of Tuesday night’s public hearing. Six people, other than school system officials and the media, attended the hearing.

Noting the federal budget crisis, Hagerstown resident Sally Hatch expressed concern the school system might be too dependent on federal funds.

Chief Financial Officer Chris South said last week that if the federal sequester continues, the cuts could cost the school system between $664,000 to $1.6 million.

Hatch, who tutors two fourth-graders, also suggested the school system establish a volunteer office.

Before the public comment period, the school board heard from Stephen Hummel, who chairs the board’s Budget Advocacy and Review Committee.

Hummel said the board has cut “nearly $15 million from its baseline budget over the past five years,” making further reductions increasingly difficult.

Committee members say they think the coming fiscal year will be among many tight budget years to come, Hummel said. He noted the volatility of energy costs and that revenue shortfalls are likely to continue from state and local sources.

As the school system continues to face financial challenges, committee members believe “all of its stakeholders will need to work, and possibly sacrifice, as a team for the good of our students,” Hummel said.

Speaking to the school board, Hummel said the committee urges the County Commissioners to fully fund the school board’s budget request.

Personnel-related costs, including salaries and benefits, account for 85 percent to 87 percent of the operating budget, South said before the hearing.

The proposed budget does not include raises, but sets aside $535,000 for potential raises, Wright has said. On Tuesday, Wright said school system officials were continuing to negotiate possible pay increases with representatives of employee groups.

Hummel mentioned the plan to add two additional school resource officers.

South said the school system’s cost for the two additional officers will probably be slightly more than the current cost for school resource officers.

The current and proposed budgets both call for $395,000 for school resource officers.

The school system now has seven resource officers, who are sworn police officers and carry a firearm.

The police agencies will need to hire and train officers before additional school resource officers can start working at the schools, Wright said.

The school system pays Hagerstown Police a flat fee, based on salary, for school resource officers, South said.

The school system pays the salaries and benefits for school resource officers provided through the sheriff’s office, Wright said.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the proposed budget at its 6 p.m. meeting on March 19 at the Commonwealth Avenue administrative offices.

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