Even though the county commissioners can now make sweeping reductions to education spending, the board and school officials are confidenttheir strong working relationship will make confrontational budget cuts avoidable.
Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said the three-member board intends to allow school officials "to run their own show."
"We fully rely on the Board of Education to bear the brunt of this fiscal crisis as they have been," Lippy said. "We want the spirit of cooperation to continue, although no agency is immune."
Gov. William Donald Schaefer on Friday signed a budget-cutting plan that gives county executives and commissioners the authority to make cuts in school budgets during the school year.
The temporary power over school budgets, which will expire June 30, was granted by the General Assembly to help county governments cut costs to make up for a $180 million reduction in state aid to local governments.
Aid to Carroll will be reduced by about $4.3 million. The commissioners intend to announce specific cuts on Oct. 31. More cuts are expected to reduce projected deficits this fiscal year and next.
"People think these cutsare draconian. Wait until they see others to come down the line," said Delegate Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll, Baltimore.
The new lawprohibits teacher layoffs unless they are specifically authorized under contracts between unions and school boards. It also specifies that cuts cannot be made in instructional materials.
School officials, though, said the law leaves open alternative education programs, health and counseling services and staffing outside the classroom, suchas central office and maintenance.
Although concerned by the measure, Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said he was confident the commissioners would avoid tinkering with contracts reached with associations representing workers other than teachers.
"We have no reason to believe the county commissioners intend to open the collective bargaining agreement," Shilling said.
Commissioners would not use their new line-item veto power unless the board requires cuts deeper thanthe school board agrees to make, Lippy said.
The county's 600-plus workers do not have collective bargaining agreements and are not immune from salary cuts or layoffs.
Carroll state legislators explained why they all voted for the bill at a press conference Thursday. Lawmakers said educators have overreacted and caused public alarm by predicting gloom.
They emphasized that the law protects classroom learning. Lawmakers said cuts should be made in education administration but added that Carroll seems less top-heavy than other counties.
"As important as education is, anyone who believes there are not areas that can be reduced is not facing reality," said Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard.
Like school board members, Shilling said he was disturbed with the delegation's claim that educators overreacted. He called the legislation a "good ole boys' deal cut at the last minute," changing a long-standing state commitment without public input.
"My concern is not that we can't deal with thosecuts," he said. "I've already told the county that the board is going to make the cuts in central office and in administrative (spending)."
Board vice president Cheryl A. McFalls said the legislation sets a "terrible, terrible precedent."
The school board "was very conscious about taxpayer dollars" and did not give any pay raises, McFalls said. County budget constraints prompted the school board to withdraw a proposal for 3 percent raises.
Curtis Schnorr, president of the 100-member association representing Carroll school administratorsand supervisors, said any diminution of the contract would mean salary reductions since workers received no pay raise.
"That's something nobody wants to face," he said, adding the membership favors raising additional revenues through taxes.
"We're not asking for a raise. We're only asking people to support education and make it a strongpriority."
All six Carroll legislators say they oppose any tax increases for the next fiscal year.