Letting Politicians Cut School Budget Is Bad Idea And Bad Law


Givingauthority To County Officials Can Only Result In Mischief

November 10, 1991|By Jeff Griffith

The legislature passed, and the governor signed, a bad law last month.

One senator, at least, faced reality.

"Act in haste, repent at leisure," said Sen. Howard Denis, R-Montgomery.

And repent is, no doubt, what those among us with a scintilla of common sense will do.

What this new law does is give countyexecutives and county commissioners the authority to cut school budgets. In the past, control of the specifics of school budgets had beenreserved to those elected or appointed to make these decisions.

What was good sense before is still good sense. The whole point of insulating boards of education from county officials was to keep school finance out of politics.

Obviously, everything about education in the United States is political today, so perhaps the theory was flawed. School funding has been a major battleground in this and other counties for years.

Till now, once the funding authority had set the budget, that was the end of the battle for another year. And the battle was about the total amount allocated to education.

That was then. This is now.

Until June 30, the county commissioners actually can cut specific items out of the existing school budget.

Our commissioners said they won't make unilateral cuts in the Board of Education budget. Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy refers to a "spirit of cooperation" between the commissioners and the board. The board will share in the required belt-tightening, just like all other agencies, the commissioner hopes.

The law forbids teacher layoffs unless allowed under the contract between the board and the Carroll County Education Association, which represents county teachers, and also excludes cuts in instructional materials.

What's left?

Lots. Lots of places for major mischief:

* Teacher salaries -- The law allows current contracts establishing teacher salaries to be effectively voided.

The effort to bring teachers' salaries -- and those of other board employees -- to equitable levels has been going on in Carroll for more than 15 years. Within the last two or three years, salaries here finally had begun to be competitive with those in other rural but growing Maryland counties. Carroll is still far from competitive, though, withHoward and Baltimore counties.

Should our board sacrifice years of progress to solve what everyone believes is a short-term problem? After all, President George Bush has told us repeatedly that the recession is over.

* School health programs -- Trained health aides in each school and registered nurses in schools with special education programs have been on the community's agenda for about 15 years. Increasing numbers of at-risk children with mild to severe physical, mental and emotional problems populate our schools.

In most cases, their parents work closely with the teachers, counselors and school staff. In some cases, however, the parents simply abdicate their responsibility.

Often the school "nurse," who actually may not be a trainednurse, is the key person in the support system for these

at-risk kids.

An amazing number of our school children require daily medication. The school "nurse" monitors medications. The school "nurse" provides everything from emergency first aid to heaping amounts of TLC.

Given the nature of school populations of the '90s, school healthprograms are not a safe alternative for budget reductions.

* Extracurricular activities -- Team sports, music programs, drama, Future Farmers of America, Vocational Industrial Clubs of America, our schools offer a wide variety of opportunities for students to learn outside the classroom.

The amount of public money spent on these programs is minuscule in relation to the overall budget, but the value of the extracurricular activities is not easy to reduce to dollars and cents.

In this county, sports, bands, choirs, dramatic productions and clubs are the glue that binds the community to the school.

The bulk of the money that drives these programs comes from parents in booster clubs. The enthusiastic support of parent groups is one of the great strengths of our school system.

Everything from concession stand pizzas to bull roasts provide fuel for after-school programs.

Cutting extracurricular activities would yield little in budget-balancing terms, but would cost much in terms of community support. Schoolsystems in other communities wrongly have eliminated extracurricularprograms.

Our commissioners would be wise to avoid any such mischief. Any needed cuts must be made at the discretion of the Board of Education, and only then after community involvement.

To do otherwise would be to give weight to a bad law.

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