Schools Stand To Gain In State's New Funding Formula No Great Windfall Is Expected, However

December 05, 1990|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

A proposal to revise the way Maryland finances public schools would mean more dollars for Carroll classrooms, but just how much is not known.

"We literally did not break down the spending by county," said Arthur Boyd, executive director of the Maryland Education Coalition, the reform group that has proposed an overhaul of the state's school funding formula.

The intent of the $628 million proposal is to provide equal opportunities for all children in the state's 24 school systems. Under the current state formula, the amount schools spend ranges from $6,629 per pupil in Montgomery County to $4,049 per pupil in Caroline County.

"I don't know what the implications would be in terms of Carroll," said county Superintendent R. Edward Shilling, noting he has not yet studied the proposal, which was released Nov. 26.

"It's an issue we will have to sit down and talk about," he added.

Although William H. Hyde, Carroll's assistant superintendent of administration, also had not seen the coalition's final report, he said he didn't expect Carroll to gain much from a revised formula because the system ranks 12th among the 24 jurisdictions statewide in terms of wealth per student.

"I suspect the group is proposing a formula where no one would lose," Hyde said. "We'll all start from here and go forward. But I think their plan will help the counties that have really suffered and don't have the tax base we have here."

State dollars accounted for about $41.2 million of Carroll's $100 million education budget this fiscal year. About $55.5 million were county dollars and the remainder came from federal and other sources, school officials said.

MEC has calculated that it would take an average of $900 more per child to offer equal educational opportunities in Maryland. That money, though, would not be distributed equally, but would go to those who needed it most.

Boyd said that the coalition has proposed that every county be brought up to a median per pupil spending -- $4,511. To bring Carroll County, which currently spends $4,320 per pupil, to the median would mean about an additional $4 million annually.

"That would buy a lot of staff," said James E. Reter, Carroll's director of business and finance. "We're short on staffing compared to the rest of the state. Four million dollars would mean about 140 new teachers. That would greatly reduce the student-teacher ratio."

Included in the MEC plan would be a performance challenge that would tie increased funding to school-by-school performance-improvement plans. In addition, more money would be earmarked for impoverished districts and special-education students.

Although Carroll would receive money for both disadvantaged and special-education students, Boyd said he did not know how much that would amount to. Increasing money to special education statewide would cost $118.7 million a year under the MEC plan.

Jewell H. Makolin, Carroll's supervisor of special education, said any additional money for special education would be earmarked for staff expansion.

"We could do a lot more with more funding," she said. "Any additional funding would allow us to have the staff we need to do much better work with the students."

Like other school systems, Carroll provides a variety of services to special-education students, ranging from physical and motor therapy to speech and language assistance, she said.

"The bulk of our cost is not in the classroom, but in hiring other professionals who help the growth of the children," she said.

LINOWES COULD NET COUNTY $15 MILLION

Carroll County would reap a $15 million windfall under the Linowes Commission's proposed state tax reform package.

Under the controversial tax reform plan, the state would no longer return revenue to local communities from six taxes and fees on such items as beer, liquor, cigarettes and business applications. Carroll would thereby lose about $629,000.

But the same plan, which was unveiled last week, would bring in about $800 million in new revenue for state and local governments, with most of it earmarked for education and transportation.

Carroll would garner about $13.6 million in additional school aid and about $5 million for transportation and infrastructure, said R. Robert Linowes, chairman of the governor's tax commission, which was appointed in 1987.

He said about $3.21 million would be earmarked for property tax reduction in Carroll. That would mean a 15-cent reduction in the county property tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed value, he said.

With property tax relief and the loss of the revenue from the six taxes and fees, Carroll would receive a net gain of about $15 million, said Linowes, for whom the commission is named. Carroll County government officials have not yet received a copy of the Linowes report and could not comment on its specifics.

Linowes said the tax reform plan is aimed at helping both state government and local jurisdictions. He noted, though, that the additional revenue would come with strings attached. Local governments will be held accountable to performance standards, which Linowes said have not been determined.

Carroll school officials said any additional state revenue would most likely be earmarked to hire more teachers.

James E. Reter, Carroll's director of business and finance, said the school system is about 100 teachers below the state average.

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