Disciplining Carroll's school board

November 18, 1992

Unhappiness over the Carroll County school board's decision to give Superintendent R. Edward Shilling a pay raise this summer has boiled over into an effort to strip the board of some of its powers. Members of Carroll's State House delegation will be discussing whether the board should have its budgetary responsibilities reduced.

At issue is the board's accountability. The school board is not seen as a fiscally responsible body. Its decision to enter into a four-year contract with the superintendent with automatic pay increases has come back to haunt it.

Teachers, angered they didn't get any cost-of-living increases this year, and citizens, feeling that the superintendent is already well compensated, don't believe the board can properly manage its budget.

Board President Cheryl McFalls may have lost her seat two weeks ago because she stoutly defended the pay raise.

But her defeat alone may not mollify the electorate. Successive waves of state budget cuts -- particularly education grants -- have only served to highlight the budget problem.

The issue the delegation and the county's citizens must mull over is the same one being considered by some of Carroll's neighboring jurisdictions: Should fiscal responsibility over education remain with the school board, which has no taxing authority, or should it rest with the county commissioners who set the county's taxes?

Because the commissioners are responsible for raising revenue, there is merit to the idea of giving them more control over the school budget. Currently, the county budget office and commissioners set overall budget limits for education, but the school board decides the allocations within the education department.

Reducing the school board's budgetary authority, however, means its power and responsibility to set education policy will diminish.

If control over school policy begins to gravitate toward the commissioners, why have a school board?

Do the citizens want the commissioners to have greater say in setting educational policy?

These complex policy issues should not be decided in haste. More discipline in school spending is needed, but a radical restructuring of school budget responsibilities without a full examination of all the issues and their implications might worsen an already lamentable situation.

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