Unrealistic School Budget

January 26, 1991

Each year, for as long as we can remember, Baltimore County School Superintendent Robert Y. Dubel has proposed a "bare bones" budget. This year, it contains a $518.5 million budget request -- $54.7 million more than he got last year!

In view of the county's worsening economic situation, this 12 percent increase is patently unrealistic. Coming after the taxpayer revolt evidenced in last year's elections, it also is politically absurd.

Dr. Dubel's proposal, including his request for 360 new jobs, will now go to the school board, which is likely to rubber-stamp it. The request will then be examined by the county executive and ultimately go to the county council. The executive and council, having to fit education expenditures into the county's overall budget, are likely to make major cuts. Thus, the final funding levels may bear little resemblance to Dr. Dubel's initial wish list. Yet untold hours will be spent in this process, with heavy emotional expenditure as well.

Do Baltimore County residents need this costly charade year after year? We think not.

We urge County Executive Roger Hayden, himself a long-time school board president, to initiate a thorough re-examination of how the county school system is operated. This investigation should have two purposes: to devise alternatives to present organizational practices and to assure quality education in public schools even if the local revenue base decreases.

The latest Dubel budget proposal underscores the need for such a review.

In recommending a budget with a built-in $10.5 million shortfall, the superintendent in fact threw his hands up in the air and said, "Money is not my problem, let others worry about it." Thus, the only revenue solution he proposed was that "the need for additional state funding is clearly apparent."

That is a cop-out. There is no guarantee such state funding will be forthcoming. Nor is there any guarantee that the rosy forecasts he cites about the county's own revenue prospects are correct. Yet the demands of 4,000 extra students expected to enroll next year are nothing compared with those of 33,000 additional students predicted to flood Baltimore County schools by the year 2000. To provide quality education for those pupils, Baltimore County schools need more realistic budget and management systems.

Also ripe for change is the current set-up in which the superintendent negotiates labor contracts with the school system's employee groups without any assurance that those "binding" settlements can be funded. This is unfair to everyone. It adds to the perception that the initial school budget proposal is a sham.

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