Budget plan for schools to face cuts '96 proposal exceeds county allotment by $3.5 million

Layoffs are possible

Parents can voice concerns, wishes at three hearings

January 14, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

The bad news about Carroll's 1996-1997 school budget likely will get worse, and school board President Joseph D. Mish Jr. says the tight spending plan will please almost no one.

"It's going to be a difficult year. There's no question about it," Mr. Mish said. "We're going to be criticized by education advocates for not being more demanding and saying this is what we really need, and we're going to be criticized by conservatives who say we're spendthrifts and ought to slash administrative salaries."

The public will have its say in three hearings -- Jan. 23 at North Carroll High School, Feb. 6 at Liberty High School and Feb. 14 at Westminster High School, all beginning at 7 p.m..

The proposed budget is $143,449,246, up 6.74 percent, or $9 million, from the current year.

Most of the increased expense is attributed to an anticipated 902 additional students and the opening of Oklahoma Road Middle School.

The schools are asking the county for $81,767,607, an increase of $6.2 million, or 8.2 percent more than what the county currently provides.

But the $81.76 million is $3.5 million more than the County Commissioners say they will allocate for schools. The commissioners have said they can do no better than "maintenance of effort," the state standard requiring local jurisdictions to match the previous year's spending for education, an amount that is based on the projected number of students.

If all employees forgo a 3 percent raise negotiated as part of a two-year agreement a year ago, the county could save about $2.5 million, said Assistant Superintendent William Hyde.

Even if the raises are eliminated, the school board may have to cut an additional $1 million.

Working snowbound from home on Friday, school officials said they wouldn't release a list of additional cuts until they could arrange a press conference Tuesday, weather permitting.

The list was culled from talks, which began in August, with principals and other administrators, teacher groups and parent representatives from each school.

Parents and the others were asked to rank programs as necessary, absolutely necessary or worthwhile but not necessary.

"I've been in this school system since 1980, and we have never ever been in a position where we began the development of a budget by making cuts in existing programs," said Assistant Superintendent Gary Dunkleberger. "We've made cuts in existing programs before when they were ones we chose to move away from because they weren't good for kids or they weren't working."

This time, it was for purely financial reasons, he said.

Mr. Mish said the long-term picture for Carroll could improve in five or six years, once the county catches up with all the school construction it must do to handle growth. "I think these things are cyclical," he said.

Dr. Dunkleberger confirmed that teacher and staff layoffs could result from cutting programs. But if those teachers are certified in an area in which a position is open, they'll be reassigned. For example, any teacher certified in elementary education would be reassigned because the schools hire several elementary teachers every year just to keep up with growth.

Although Mr. Mish doubts the County Commissioners will give more than the maintenance of effort required by the state, he said he hopes the school board can at least submit a request for the full amount, before cutting the $3.5 million.

"We want to put forth the idea that we are advocates for the public schools," he said. "Also, we have these employee agreements that we negotiated in good faith, and we'd like to fund those if we could."

Unlike in previous years, the school board probably won't add anything to the superintendent's budget after public hearings.

For years, school budget hearings have gone like this: Parents show up asking for more teachers, smaller classes, a program for gifted children or other programs. And the board has nearly always found a way to add something, somewhere, before sending the proposal off to the County Commissioners.

"I doubt very seriously we're going to add anything," Mr. Mish said. "The commissioners are pretty adamant."

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown has said that even if the county gives the school board just enough money to fulfill the "maintenance of effort" requirement, it will have to cut back other county agencies.

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