Carroll school board, commissioners clash on budget control Line-item veto on education spending meets resistance

November 24, 1992|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff Writer

The Carroll County commissioners and the Board of Education clashed yesterday over how much control the commissioners should have over the school system, with school board members claiming that commissioners don't need as much power as they have.

"What would we be elected for if we were to hand over our management responsibilities and our financial responsibilities to the commissioners?" said Carolyn L. Scott, the school board's vice president.

The joint meeting yesterday got the commissioners and school board together to discuss new powers the commissioners have, and other financial issues.

A key issue at the meeting was the permanent line-item control over school budgets that the Maryland General Assembly gave the counties last week. Two of Carroll's three commissioners supported that measure.

The commissioners also have asked the General Assembly for authority to audit the school system to determine where it might be wasting money.

Verbal exchanges were strong between members of the two boards, as school board member John D. Myers accused the commissioners of dwelling on negative things in the schools instead of recognizing successes.

"I get so damn tired of hearing you trash this school system," Mr. Myers said to Commissioner Julia W. Gouge.

"I'm glad you said that, because I'm not trying to trash the schools in this county," Mrs. Gouge said.

She said that in the last several years her votes have been the deciding ones that allowed teacher salary increases, building projects and land purchases.

Mrs. Gouge said she did not see the performance audit as negative, but as a way for the commissioners and the schools to learn where they can improve. "If we are doing such a fantastic job of spending county dollars, then why are you concerned?" Mrs. Gouge asked.

She said that when the school board resists an audit, it looks as though it has something to hide.

Commissioner Donald I. Dell had agreed with the school board that a line-item authority is unnecessary for the commissioners.

But Mrs. Gouge and Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy said they need the line-item veto and audit authority -- even if they don't use it -- because they are ultimately responsible to taxpayers.

"I'd like us to use it not at all if we possibly can, but I still say where we have responsibility as commissioners we must have authority," Mr. Lippy said.

The schools make up more than 50 percent of the total county budget, and the commissioners always have had control over the bottom line, the amount in various categories such as building projects and all large budget transfers.

An audit might not be done this year, Mr. Lippy said, because it might cost more than $100,000 to bring in an outside auditor to review how the school system is being managed.

Mr. Lippy said, however, that if an auditor finds ways to combine administrative and clerical jobs the savings could be worth the cost.

"I don't mean anything personal, but how many assistant superintendents do we need?" he said.

For the line-item veto, the law requires the commissioners to give reasons and go through a process before exercising their right to rearrange the school budget. Mr. Lippy said that would keep the commissioners from abusing their authority.

Mrs. Scott said the line-item power gives commissioners control over programs, which is supposed to be the domain of the school board.

Board President Cheryl A. McFalls and Superintendent R. Edward Shilling said they have always cooperated with the commissioners at budget time. They noted that the commissioners didn't use a temporary line-item veto power that they had last year.

During yesterday's meeting, whenever a commissioner would mention an audit to make sure the school system is operating at peak efficiency, a school board member would point to statistics to prove that the school system is doing just that.

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