Schools balk at cutting budget plan

March 21, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Sun Staff Writer

With enrollment growing, Carroll school officials say they can't shrink their budget request as the County Commissioners have told other departments to do.

In a meeting with the commissioners yesterday, school board members and Superintendent Brian Lockard stood firm in their $141 million budget request, up 8 percent over the current year's million. Almost $9 million of the increase is requested from the county, because state and federal shares of the local school budget are expected to grow very little.

"We understand we're asking for an awful lot, but it's our responsibility to tell you what the needs are," said board member Carolyn L. Scott.

"We're seeing youngsters come in with greater and greater needs, physically, emotionally and intellectually," Dr. Lockard said.

Another 728 students are expected to fill classrooms and portable buildings next year. By the year 2000, the schools expect 4,180 more students.

"It seems more and more people want to move here because of our school system," Board President Ann M. Ballard said.

The commissioners mostly listened to the board and staff explain the budget requests, many of which are because of growth.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown asked the board and administrators to "turn a corner and go back in and look at the way you spend money."

"We have to start redefining how we do things or the commissioners are going to be in the position of raising taxes every year, and that's going to last about as long as one board of commissioners," he said.

Dr. Lockard said the schools have fully cooperated with a performance audit that the commissioners requested and are implementing suggestions, such as reducing the sick-leave payoff for retiring staff and phasing in a system to have contractors bid for bus routes.

He also reminded the commissioners that while Carroll County ranks 12th in the state for wealth, it ranks 17th of the 24 jurisdictions in spending per pupil.

The proposed budget calls for an additional 46.2 instructional positions, 22.7 special education positions and 21 other positions.

Also, while costs and enrollments are rising, state contributions for Social Security tax, buses and special education either are dropping or staying the same.

But Dr. Lockard included some positions for improvement, such as seven middle school teachers to help reduce the average class size from 27 to 25; and about four teachers for reducing class size in primary grades.

The request also includes 10 teachers, each of whom would work in two elementary schools, to help students and other teachers with technology. Because these teachers would spend some time working with students, it would also give classroom teachers the extra planning time they have been asking for.

"We are not where we need to be [in technology education], by far," Dr. Lockard said.

The board also is asking for additional teachers to address increasing discipline and behavior concerns, as well as three teachers for schools that serve as regional special education centers.

Earlier this month, the commissioners proposed raising the piggyback tax to 60 percent of the state's income tax rate -- the maximum the state allows. Carroll's rate now is 50 percent.

Commissioner Richard Yates opposes raising any taxes, while Commissioners Brown and Donald I. Dell said the piggyback tax revenue would be necessary, especially to build eight schools needed to meet growing enrollment in Carroll.

The county's property tax rate of $2.35 per $100 of assessed valuation has not changed since 1990. The commissioners said they don't want to raise that rate, because it would hurt people on fixed incomes.

The county's fiscal 1996 operating budget is expected to total about $150 million, while requests from all departments are $177 million. The current year's budget is $144 million.

About 53 percent of the county's annual operating budget goes to the school system.

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