WINCHESTER — The Frederick County Board of Supervisors appropriated only part of the school division’s operating budget Wednesday night.
The division’s total operating budget is a $217.48 million. Earlier this year the supervisors decided to appropriate school funding by category. Some supervisors have said categorical funding ensures that county tax dollars allocated to Frederick County Public Schools are used as intended. For example, money allocated for technology can only be spent on technology. School officials now need approval from the supervisors to transfer funds from one category to another. Additionally, the supervisors need to approve any budget transfers between different classifications in the school budget.
School officials have said categorical funding will hurt the flexibility of school operations if emergencies arise.
The school division’s budget by category includes:
• $155.7 million for instruction.
• $9.55 million for administration, attendance and health.
• $12.38 million for pupil transportation.
• $18.16 million for operation and maintenance.
• $8,000 for school food services.
• $9.2 million for facilities.
• $786,496 for fund transfers.
• $11.66 million for technology.
But supervisors J.Douglas McCarthy, Josh Ludwig, Blaine Dunn and Shawn Graber voiced concerns at Wednesday’s meeting about the breakdown, saying it was substantially different from the one school officials proposed in earlier this year. In March, when the school division was seeking a $219.58 million, the categorical breakdown was:
• $156.48 million for instruction.
• $9.88 million for administration, attendance and health.
• $12.16 million for pupil transportation.
• $28.11 million for operation and maintenance.
• $8,000 for school food services.
• $1.53 million for facilities.
• $786,496 for fund transfers.
• $10.61 million for technology.
McCarthy suggested only funding instruction, administration, attendance and health, pupil transportation, school food services and fund transfers until the supervisors get answers on why such “drastic” changes were made to the facilities, operation and maintenance and technology categories.
“[FCPS Superintendent] Dr. Sovine indicated that he could answer the question as to why the changes were made,” McCarthy said. “But because I believe [School Finance Director Patty Camery] is out of the office this week, he wasn’t able to get us the information we needed before the meeting. So I’d like us to hold off on those until we get the information as to why those major changes were made.”
Graber was perplexed as to why the operations and maintenance budget dropped by about $10 million while the facilities budget increased by more than $7.5 million.
McCarthy, Graber, Dunn, Ludwig and Bob Wells voted to appropriate the money for the instruction, administration, attendance and health, pupil transportation, school food services and fund transfer categories. Board of Supervisors Chairman Charles DeHaven Jr. and supervisor Judith McCann-Slaughter voted against the partial appropriation. Wells, who has voted with DeHaven and McCann-Slaughter on other school funding issues, said on Friday that he voted the way he did so that funding was appropriated for at least those categories.
Sovine was not at the meeting, as he was attending James Wood High School’s graduation.
On Tuesday afternoon, School Board Chairman Brandon Monk forwarded Sovine questions from the Board of Supervisors inquiring about the budget changes. Sovine told Monk in a Wednesday morning email, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request from The Winchester Star, “It is common to have categorical variances from a March budget projection to the final approved budget.”
In the email, Sovine said categorical variances are the result of revaluing estimates based upon economic conditions and new information from the local, state and federal governments that include increases or decreases in funding levels and the redistribution of COVID-related funds to address projects. Sovine explained the reasoning behind the differences between the March budget and the current categorical budget
For facilities, he said the variance is due to reclassification of COVID-related funds from operations and maintenance to be used toward facilities systems improvements with multi-year useful lives. For operations and maintenance he said “variance is due to reclassification of COVID-related funds to Instruction, Facilities and Technology categories based on current plans including some capital expenditures.” For technology, he said variance is due to reclassification of COVID-related funds from operations and maintenance and to upgrade transportation technology routing and communication systems.
Monk sent Sovine’s responses to the supervisors at 1:10 p.m. on Wednesday. At 1:58 p.m. — approximately five hours before the supervisors’ meeting, Dunn sent Monk an email saying, “Can you get for us the underlying corresponding numbers showing these adjustments for each category and the difference between the original numbers a few weeks ago and the revised numbers?”
Monk forwarded Dunn’s inquiry to Sovine at 2:19 p.m. on Wednesday. At 4:05 p.m., Sovine told Monk in an email:
“In conferring with our Finance team, Mr. Dunn’s request would take a considerable amount of staff time as we have over 16,000 account codes. At this late hour, it is not possible for our team to complete this request in time for this evening’s Board of Supervisors’ meeting.”
In other business on Wednesday, the supervisors unanimously approved rezoning amendments for a gas station and convenience store planned in northeastern Frederick County.
North Stephenson Inc. sought the proffer amendments for various properties on the eastern side of Martinsburg Pike (U.S. 11), the western side of CSX, the northern side of Red Bud Road and the southern side of Snowden Bridge Boulevard. The land, which totals 13.69 acres, is owned by North Stephenson Inc. and K & J Investments LLC. The land’s zoning is a mix of General Business, Industrial Transition and Light Industrial.
The amendments allow greater trip generation on a 1.68-acre parcel (zoned for General Business) at the intersection of Martinsburg Pike and Snowden Bridge Boulevard. This would accommodate a gas station/convenience store by exempting the parcel from a trip generation cap of 6,303 that was previously imposed on the overall site.
The amendments require the property owners to contribute $100,000 toward I-81 exit 317 interchange upgrades and have the property owners participate in improvements at the intersection of the future Ezra Lane and Snowden Bridge Boulevard.