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Local citizens air school budget concerns

Susan Allen

(5/18) Parker Rohrbaugh, a fourth-grade student at Emmitsburg Elementary School (EES), is concerned about the computers at his school. "It takes a long time to connect with the Internet," he said, "and sometimes the computers just freeze up on you." He testified before the Board of County Commissioners, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Linda Burgee, and the Board of Education (BOE) at a public hearing at Catoctin High School on May 3.

Rohrbaugh and his father, Herbert, Jr., were among the approximately 85 people who attended the hearing on the Frederick County Public Schools fiscal year 2006 proposed operating budget. Both spoke specifically in favor of the $1.87 million technology replacement line item, while also advocating full funding of the budget proposal.

According to EES principal Wanda Severance, who did not speak at the hearing, ten years ago EES was one of the first Frederick County schools to receive special state funds targeted for computer and software purchases. That equipment is now out-of-date.

Nineteen others, including Superintendent Burgee, spoke to various budget issues. Burgee said the budget process had been "collaborative and positive," an assessment later echoed by Commissioners Mike Cady and Jan Gardner.

But she brought "the bad news," learned earlier in the day, that state funds will be reduced by $500,000. The money had been intended to fund all-day kindergarten, reduce class size, and help meet other requirements imposed by the Maryland legislature following the Thornton commission education study conducted during the Glendening administration.

Chris Staiger, newly elected Emmitsburg commissioner, spoke in support of full funding, and Catherine Forrence, Emmitsburg, testified on behalf of the budget as well.

The topic with the greatest number of speakers - eight in all - was the $28,000 line-item request for start-up funds for junior varsity (JV) lacrosse. Cady, known for his support of youth athletics, commended their enthusiasm and advised them not to give up, but noted that "their request is not the highest priority" this year.

Melanie Hoffman, head of FCPS psychological services, spoke about the need for additional psychologists and counselors. She pointed out that the county provides only one psychologist for every 2,000 students, below both the national average, 1/1,500, and the American Psychological Association recommendation, 1/1,000. In this school year counselors have been pulled from their regular duties to lend extra support at Walkersville and Linganore High Schools to help students cope with the sudden deaths of classmates.

The president of the group representing the school support personnel spoke on their behalf, and the president of the Frederick County Teachers Association advocated for them.

It was also a chance for the public to meet, and hear, Frederick County's new school superintendent. Burgee is a Frederick County native, a graduate of Linganore High School, who returned to the county to teach and become an elementary school administrator. She was the principal of Emmitsburg Elementary School for five years, and former supervisor of county elementary schools.

Five county commissioners attended the hearing: John L. "Lennie" Thompson, Jr., Cady, Gardner, Bruce Reeder, and John Lovell. County Manager Douglas Browning and BOE Finance Division Director Joe Zimmerman introduced the proposed budget. All BOE members were also present: Bonnie Borsa (president), Jean Smith, Daryl Boffman, Kathryn Groth, Donna Crook, Michael Schaden, and Barbara Craig.

The school budget adoption hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on June 7, in Winchester Hall, Frederick.