Schools' Fears Rooted In 'Mistake,' Says Spending Panel Chief

March 19, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff writer

The chairman of the county's Spending Affordability Committee said he isn't sure how the school board calculated its worst-case scenario -- a $342 million budget that is alleged to have come from a committee recommendation.

But Bennett H. Shaver said he knows one thing. The recommendation didn't come from the committee, an advisory group appointed by the county executive.

"The committee never suggested any dollar amount for any agency in the county," Shaver said. "We suggested the county not increase itstotal budget more than 2.8 percent over (this) year. I do not know where (the board) got the $342 million."

Shaver said the affordability committee recommended the county hold next year's budget to $607 million.

But C. Berry Carter II, acting school superintendent, said the figure was taken from a committee report submitted to the county executive last month.

"They reported to the county government oneach of the agencies," Carter said. "There was a section in there that said $342 million was sufficient for the school system.

Carter said the $342 million figure also was given to school officials by one of the county's budget auditors.

Despite the confusion over where the $342 million figure came from, County Executive Robert R. Neallappears to have studied the school system's prediction.

"Bobby went through the budget (Wednesday) with school officials informally," said Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman. "He has said he will try and maintain student-teacher ratios, but hasn't committed himself."

During the school board's regular meeting Monday night, school officials outlined the steps they said they would have to take to run the school system with $342 million, $23.8 million less than the request the board submitted to Neall last month. Those steps included everything from more than 300 teacher layoffs to increased class sizes to a reduction in instructional services.

The student-teacher ratio in the county is now 25-to-1. School officials had warned Monday night that layoffs could increase already crowded classrooms to 32 or 33 studentsper teacher.

Shaver said he believes the $342 million figure was arrived at through an "honest mistake."

Louise Hayman, a spokeswoman for the executive, said Neall had not commented publicly about theschool board's predictions of possible layoffs and reduced instructional services.

Neall has said, however, that he finds the affordability committee's 2.8 percent increase guideline "too stringent," Hayman said.

"The budget Bobby (Neall) presents may exceed the committee's guidelines, but he will explain his decision when he presents the budget," she said.

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