School Budget Confusion

February 25, 1994

Let's see if we have this straight. The Baltimore County Board of Education has approved a fiscal 1995 budget that asks the county government to provide $46 million more than it did for the current school budget. At the same time, the County Council has adopted a spending limit that holds the jurisdiction's entire 1995 budget growth to no more than $41 million.

You get the feeling that something's going to give here?

Bet on it. County Executive Roger Hayden has already begun sharpening his ax in preparation for taking a whack at this school budget. Most likely Mr. Hayden will want to aim his blows at the bulk of the requested increase -- the 6.4 percent teacher pay raise, new instructional positions and employee fringe benefits.

Granted, the executive has put himself on a limb by hinting that Baltimore County workers will get cost-of-living pay raises during this election year, for the first time since early 1991. But he is sure to balk at such a hefty boost for the teachers.

The sorry fact is, we've seen this situation all too often. The school board comes in with a huge budget request and the elected politicians are left with the responsibility of trimming it. Place the blame for this quandary on the virtually non-existent communication between school and government officials. When each side seems to have different computing methods and then fails to share information before the budget is drafted, confusion and disagreements are bound to result.

This proposed budget deserves better treatment than it might receive. Maybe the expenditures for "magnets" and other new schools and the special grants for 50 schools in poorer communities will survive any slicing and dicing by Mr. Hayden and the council. It would have made more sense, however, if both sides had had some early contact, with school officials noting their priority items and government officials offering ballpark expectations of funding amounts.

School officials rightly take pride in having improved their outreach to county residents. Indeed, the large budget figure tied to personnel reflects the demands for a reduced teacher-student ratio and teacher raises, as expressed by citizens to the school administration.

But all that effort could be for naught unless the same kind of give-and-take is developed between the people running the school system and those running county government.

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