Kristin Harty Barkley
CUMBERLAND — The budget approved Tuesday night by the Allegany County Board of Education doesn’t include money for locally funded afterschool programs.
And it doesn’t include funds to allow 44 children who live in Little Orleans to continue taking a 15-minute bus trip to attend Washington County Schools — instead of a more-than-an-hour bus trip to attend the closest Allegany County school.
But officials are mildly optimistic that their bottom line revenues will improve before budgets are finalized at county, state and federal government levels.
“Trust me, the revenue’s gonna change,” board member Jeff Metz said just before the board voted unanimously in favor of the superintendent’s proposed $109.6 million FY2012 operating budget.
“The budget’s gonna change.”
Reflecting a $6.5 million cut in state funding, the school board’s budget is 1.6 percent lower than this year’s budget and includes cuts that directly impact children. Approximately 25 teacher positions are eliminated in the budget approved Tuesday night, for example. And there are significant cuts in expenditures for instructional equipment and supplies and textbook replacement.
But ending the decade-old Little Orleans arrangement with Washington County, which would save the county around $191,000 next year, struck a particularly painful nerve.
During Tuesday’s business meeting, about half a dozen Little Orleans residents pleaded with board members to save the program.
“Do you all realize that our children’s commute will be all of three hours?” said Linda Martin, who has lived in Little Orleans for seven years. “That’s on a good day with good conditions.”
Hancock Middle School seventh-grader Jared Hose wore a blue Hancock basketball jersey and read from notes on index cards when he spoke to board members. His parents, residents of Little Orleans, both work in Washington County, he said.
“If your plans go through, I will not be able to stay after school to participate in extra-curricular activities,” said Jared, who plays three sports and is in the band. “... I’m asking you to reconsider your position because of the negative impact this will have on myself and my parents.”
Board members spoke, in turn, of their regret at having to cut the program from the budget. Allegany County Public Schools stands to gain around $400,000 in state funding next year by eliminating the program by keeping those students in-county.
“We are considering the human element of the Little Orleans situation,” said Board President Mike Llewellyn. “My high school’s gone. I don’t have a high school. ... There’s been a lot of pain in our county because of our economic decline in the last 50 or 60 years.”
The school board’s budget is to be presented to the Allegany County Board of Commissioners on March 17. Commissioners have been asked to provide about $29.1 million to the school system, up 3 percent from this year.
How much funding the county will provide is one of the “unknowns” that made approving a budget difficult, board members said. Pending state legislation could also work in Allegany County’s favor.
Commission President Mike McKay cleared up one cloudy point at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, just after the budget vote.
McKay said he’s committed to “make up the difference” to delay the elimination of the Little Orleans program for a year, while officials explore the possibility of getting state funding formulas adjusted.
“I’ll work with you in covering those dollars ... to allow it to go one more year,” McKay said.
Llewellyn thanked McKay, on behalf of the board, adding: “Please be committed to education for all of our students. I care about the students out at Little Orleans. I also care about the students in McCoole — and all the students in between.”
Contact Kristin Harty Barkley at firstname.lastname@example.org.