Board won't fight federal aid cut Schools could lose $238,000 under plan before Congress

November 09, 1995|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Some money is not worth fighting for, say three school board members who declined to send a letter to Congress urging members to reject impending cuts to education.

Carroll schools stand to lose an estimated $238,000 in federal aid next year for drug preventon and Title 1, which provides teacher aides in schools that have the most low-income students.

At yesterday's board meeting, board President Ann M. Ballard and member Carolyn C. Scott voted to send a letter to Congress urging lawmakers not to cut any education funds. But the other three board members refused.

"Federal funds come with strings attached," said Joseph D. Mish, school board vice president.

He said he would rather see education dollars come from state and local sources.

Members C. Scott Stone and Gary W. Bauer agreed.

"Typically, money that comes from the federal government is very narrowly focused and consequently offers little latitude," Mr. Stone said.

About a half-hour after the vote, in other business at the meeting, Mr. Stone endorsed a drug symposium at Liberty High School, suggesting it be replicated at other schools and at middle schools.

Ms. Scott pointed out the federal money he declined in the earlier vote supported efforts such as the drug symposium.

"Yes, I caught the connection," Mr. Stone said.

Mr. Stone said he believes the local school budget can absorb the $238,000 cut in federal money.

"The impact on Carroll County is minimal," he said. "It's not of serious concern."

The impact across the state, however, could be about $33 million, based on the House version of the cuts.

Association of Boards of Education, said she believes a few other school boards in the state declined to fight for the federal money. The association doesn't have a tally, however.

Letting the money go is a paradox because school boards across the state usually fight for state and local money for schools.

Carroll school officials face the toughest budget decisions ever as they build the 1996-1997 budget. To keep up with growth and other increased expenses, they'll have to find at least $5.3 million in programs in place this year to trim from next year.

"Many people will make the argument we should take the money wherever we can," Mr. Stone said. "I don't subscribe to that."

Meanwhile, the state is cutting its share of education funding each year, shifting more of the burden to the counties.

Ms. Scott argued that the schools already are obligated to provide drug-prevention education, and the federal money helps carry out that local and state goal.

Title 1 money, she said, "helps our neediest children." Teacher aides hired with Title 1 money work with all children in the classroom, not just those who are low income. The criteria for choosing which schools get the money, however, are based on formulas that include the percentage of children who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches.

Ms. Ballard said she supported the resolution not because she thought Congress would actually heed it.

"I am going to support this to make them aware that when you do cut, you [hurt] the neediest children," Ms. Ballard said.

"It's not that I don't feel they're worth spending money on," Mr. Mish said of the programs in jeopardy. "There's a good case to be made for Title 1. It's helped a lot of kids. But is it as valuable as other programs that helped these kids?"

Mr. Mish said when federal dollars drive local programs, people come to expect them. When the federal money is gone, local schools are left feeling obligated to continue them.

"We have a constituency that says, 'Hey, I want this program for my child.' It's like an addiction. It's hard to wean yourself off of it," Mr. Mish said.

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