Bill to curb school clout gets support County wants more say over spending

January 10, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Bills that would give the Carroll commissioners some power over school spending and management garnered public support a hearing on legislative proposals yesterday.

"I'd like to see the school board held accountable for spending," said Dave Sisler, who attended the hearing at the County Office Building to discuss school spending concerns. "I live across from the high school, and see lights on there all the time. This is taxpayers' money they're using."

The Westminster resident was among about a dozen people -- the lowest number in recent years -- who met with the county's legislative delegation in the annual public hearing to discuss an agenda for the three-month General Assembly session that begins Wednesday.

The 14 bills proposed by the commissioners include measures that would create a solid waste authority, require licensing of massage parlors and require criminal background checks of prospective county employees.

But legislation aimed at tightening the reins on school spending drew the most comment.

The commissioners want the power to review and reduce funds for the school board after the commission has approved the money. About 50 percent of the county's $115 million budget is earmarked for the school system.

"The school board has too much power," said Burke Lego of Winfield. "Voters don't hold school board members accountable for [spending]. This would let the commissioners."

Ironically, the commissioners had line-item veto power last fiscal year but did not exercise the authority, said Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll, Frederick, Howard.

Ed Summers of Finksburg opposed the line-item veto legislation.

"I think the county commissioners have enough trouble with their own budget, let alone the board of education's," he said.

"Line-item veto power can wreck programs and years of work. . . . We should leave the school board to run the schools."

A proposal that would give the commissioners permission to conduct a performance audit of the school board's management practices also drew public support.

"The school board should be held accountable," said Bill Hurlock of Westminster. "There are a lot of things the commissioners aren't aware of."

Such legislation may be moot. The school board has agreed to a performance audit under certain conditions. The audit has been sought by the commissioners for years.

Del. Richard C. Matthews, a Republican who chairs the Carroll delegation, said he was skeptical the education proposals would pass the General Assembly because they would be opposed statewide by special interest groups.

A majority of residents opposed bills that would create a solid waste authority, allow criminal background checks of prospective employees, allow administrative fees for the newly enacted forest conservation program and require licensing of massage parlors.

"This group of commissioners is committee-happy," said Taneytown resident Ralph Shipley about the solid waste authority plan. "That could snowball into a multimillion dollar thing. It's the commissioners' responsibility to handle these things."

Residents expressed concerns that creation of such an authority would lead to construction of an incinerator in the county. Last week, the commissioners appointed a committee to determine whether the county should build an incinerator.

Westminster resident Rebecca Orenstein asked the delegation

to delay any legislation until the committee completes its study.

"Give the committee a year to 18 months to do its job," she said. "Does Carroll County want an incinerator? It's a very volatile question, I find."

Delegate Matthews said the lawmakers will meet to discuss public comment, then vote on the commissioners' proposals. The delegation will introduce only those bills favored by at least four of the six lawmakers, he said.

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