School Board Turns To County To Make Up Shortfall

But Commissioners Profess Reluctance To Raise Taxes

April 01, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

School leaders want the county commissioners to make up some of the state budget cuts they expect for next school year.

But the commissioners and their budget director say they're also being squeezed by the state.

Nobody will know how much the schools will suffer until the General Assembly completes its budget work next week, but school administrators say they expect to lose much of the $6.1 million they were to get for the APEX program (Action Plan for Educational Excellence).

"There is only one place we can come, and that's back to you," said Education Board President Cheryl A. McFalls.

The operating budget proposal for 1993 is $112.29 million, a 4.81 percent increase over theoriginal current year budget of $107.1 million. It includes $1.3 million less in county dollars than the current year's original budget.

Fifty-one percent of the school budget comes from the county; the rest is state and federal money.

Nearly all the additional $5.15 million requested for next year is to pay for the rapid growth in the county's schools, which will take in 852 new students by September. In addition, the new Friendship Valley Elementary School will open in Westminster this fall.

"We're looking at a need of $4 million justto maintain the status quo," said Superintendent R. Edward Shilling.

The equivalent of 87 new full-time positions (some of which will be split into part-time jobs) are to be created next year to accommodate the growth. Included in those positions are 12 elementary and 20 secondary school teachers, maintenance workers, custodians, instructional assistants and counselors.

Commissioners said they are not yet willing to increase taxes, but one of them did not rule it out.

"Our bag of tricks has to be completely full and open," Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said.

He said he is expecting the worst from the state and believes legislators should have planned better if they won'tincrease taxes.

"I'm still a little miffed with our legislators; they should have a plan," he said. "It's so easy to say 'no new taxes,' then run away from the problem."

Commissioner Julia W. Gouge ruled out raising taxes, however, and said it was too early to tell what the county needed to do for the school system.

"There's too manypeople out of work to talk about raising taxes," she said.

Commissioner President Donald I. Dell said he doesn't want to raise taxes either, but hopes the county can find additional money to make up for state cuts to what he called a lean school budget.

"It looks to melike they tried to cut where they can," Dell said.

The budget proposal contains no money for staff raises, and staff members will taketwo unpaid days by the end of this school year. Lippy said he sensesa lack of sympathy from county residents.

"God and all the reliable figures on earth just won't change their minds," Lippy said.

Director of Management and Budget Steven Powell said the county is feeling its own state cut of $5.9 million across all other departments.

"There are no available balances within the regular operating budget to accommodate the possible loss in state funding for the board," he said.

Dell said the county may have to increase class sizes to reduce the number of new teachers to be hired.

Elementaries aim fora class size of 25, but Dell said the county may have to go to 30, even though teachers might "become disciplinarians instead of teachers."

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