WHEN THE dust finally settles after the forthcoming battle over Carroll County's education budget, none of the participants -- from the commissioners to students -- will emerge unscathed. However, the Board of Education and the commissioners must fashion a spending plan that does the least amount of damage to the young people it is designed to serve.
The school board has proposed a total budget of $143,449,246 -- an increase of about $9 million from this year's budget. The county will be responsible for providing about $81.8 million of the total. Grants from state and federal governments and user fees will finance the remainder. The commissioners have already said the amount is about $3.5 million more than they have allocated for education.
To balance the budget, the school board and commissioners must come to an agreement. At present, the obvious solution is to cut people and programs. The difficult task is deciding which ones.
There are some additional and unavoidable costs in the coming year's school budget. Providing classrooms and teachers to serve an anticipated 902 additional students and the opening of Oklahoma Road Middle School are the most notable. A negotiated 3-percent pay raise for school system personnel -- which adds about $2.5 million to payroll costs -- will be next to impossible to rescind.
Teacher and staff layoffs are being mentioned as possibilities. Cutting teachers is a dicey proposition. It could result in larger class sizes in lower schools, fewer class selections in middle and high schools. It could also result in less frequent art, music, technology and vocational classes. In following this course of action, Carroll would degrade its curriculum and school system.
There may be fat hidden in administrative and support categories, but cutting managers and administrators sometimes produces a short-term savings that results in long-term costs down the road. The same is true for building maintenance and repair. Deferring those costs is good for this year's budget, but could spell disaster in the future.
No matter how carefully this budget is assembled, the cuts will hurt some aspect of Carroll's education program.