If yesterday's meeting between the Board of Education and the Carroll County legislative delegation in Annapolis does nothing more than get state money for Oklahoma Road Middle School, that will at least save the county $6 million.
"Well, we might get a school, but we really didn't deal with too much else," said board member Carolyn L. Scott. "There's never enough time."
State Sen. Charles H. Smelser, D-Carroll; and Dels. Lawrence A. LaMotte, D-Carroll; Donald B. Elliott, R-Carroll; Richard C. Matthews, R-Carroll; and Richard N. Dixon, D-Carroll, had set aside an hour yesterday to discuss the school board's main concerns.
Most of the talk was over Carroll's need for more state money to build schools, and state regulations that impose programs on local boards without additional state money to pay for them.
The legislators seemed sympathetic to the board on both issues.
"I'm convinced that's a much-needed project," Mr. Smelser said of the Oklahoma Road Middle School. He said he was in a good position to press for the school because he has been conservative in his requests for school construction money in the past.
School and county officials are pushing to get $6 million for Oklahoma Road and $1.2 million more toward the renovation of Taneytown Elementary School. The state Interagency Committee for Public School Construction already has said no, and the county appealed to the state Board of Public Works last month and to legislators this month.
Mr. Smelser, who is chairman of the capital budget subcommittee of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, could have considerable influence in urging the governor and other legislators to support Oklahoma Middle. The school board members asked him to do all he can to persuade the governor and state officials to pay half the $12 million estimated cost for building the school.
The state Interagency Committee for Public School Construction has said the formula they use does not support building a new middle school in South Carroll yet. However, Sykesville Middle School is more than 200 students over capacity, and development is continuing in the area.
County school officials say outdated state formulas don't take into account the rate of growth and building in Carroll County.
Board members praised Mr. Smelser for introducing a bill that would require the state to pay for any mandated programs that cost more than $250,000.
Board member Joseph D. Mish said he was concerned about who would determine the cost of a program, and that it could be arbitrary.
Mr. Smelser said the $250,000 amount was a working figure, and that sometimes "I don't think there's any way to tell" how much a new program will cost.
"I think you're on the right track," Mrs. Scott said to Mr. Smelser about his bill. However, she said she was concerned about a loophole in the bill that could allow the General Assembly to waive the requirement that the state pay for the mandates.
"We're concerned about losing control" to the state, Mr. Mish said.
One way the school boards could lose control is if any legislation is passed to allow county commissioners to have line-item control over the school budget, or the right to impose a performance audit on schools.
The performance audit issue is one that the Carroll commissioners and school board have dickered over for years. Over the past year, however, they have worked out plans for
the county to hire an independent firm to audit the school system's performance in areas including personnel, transportation, food service and maintenance. The audit will examine whether these areas are operating effectively and efficiently.
Last year, the Carroll commissioners succeeded in getting Mr. Matthews to introduce a bill that would give the commissioners power to impose an audit. The bill died in the House Ways and Means Committee.
"Basically what we were told was 'You keep your petty fights between the county and the Board of Education back in Carroll County,' " said Mr. Shilling.
Mr. Dixon said he didn't see a need for such a bill, especially now that the board and commissioners have agreed on an audit.
He said it would be widely opposed around the state because it would affect all counties.
"If we introduce the bill, it's going to die in committee," Mr. Dixon said.
"You're doing a good job," he told the board. "That's the bottom line."
Mr. Smelser also said other delegates point to Carroll schools as a model system, producing high scores on state tests and spending $5,089 per student -- less than the state average of $5,823.
"They say, 'Carroll's doing it for a lot less. Why can't you?' " Mr. Smelser said.