Goals modest in debate on school budget First hearing tonight

few demands expected

January 23, 1996|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

A range of voices will rise in defense of elementary school music, small class sizes, programs for the gifted and a raise in salaries beginning at tonight's first public hearing on the 1996-1997 county school budget.

In past years, those voices would have asked for more. Now, they are working to maintain the status quo and, possibly, competing against each other's interests in the toughest year anyone can remember.

"We're not asking for anything to be added," said Ralph Blevins, president of the Carroll County Education Association. "It's just not a year to do that."

"This is a question of what can we keep, not what can we add," said Linda Murphy, president of the Carroll County Council of PTAs.

Parents are hoping class sizes don't grow.

Teachers are hoping for that, too, and that their pay raises will survive.

A new arts group will ask that the instrumental music program for fourth- and fifth-graders continue.

Bus contractors are likely to ask, as they have in past years, for a cost-of-living increase.

Superintendent Brian Lockard is recommending a 1996-1997 budget of $143,449,246, up 6.74 percent from the current year's. Most of the increase results from the 902 additional students school officials expect in the fall.

The budget proposal would mean increasing class sizes, eliminating middle school computer training and spending less money on judges and guest conductors for band contests.

But in spite of the entreaties not to cut one thing or another, the school board probably will have to pare an additional $3.3 million to meet spending targets set by the County Commissioners.

In addition to cutting programs such as elementary instrumental music and increasing class sizes, school officials say, teachers and other staff members may have to give up all or part of a 3 percent pay raise that was to have begun next school year.

The Carroll County Alliance for Arts Education drew about 60 parents, grandparents and teachers to a meeting last week to organize against cuts in elementary instrumental music. The group was formed last summer in anticipation of cuts, said Donald Myers, vice president of the alliance and one of the owners of Stu's Music Shop in Westminster.

"If the budget really has to be reduced, that reduction can be spread out on different areas," he said, rather than eliminating the whole elementary music program in which he taught 20 years ago.

"I just saw how much it benefited students. It is essential," Mr. Myers said.

Even if it means higher impact fees for each new home built in the county or increases in other taxes, Mr. Myers said, elementary music should stay.

The alliance will have representatives at all of the hearings and will take its case to the commissioners. The group's next meeting will be March 11 at Westminster High School.

If all employees forgo the 3 percent cost-of-living raise that had been negotiated for the next school year, it would save about $2.5 million, said Assistant Superintendent William Hyde.

Most employees would still get a small incremental raise, but if the board went even further, it could save $1.4 million by freezing all staff members at their current pay.

Such a freeze has not been proposed by school administrators, but it is a solution suggested by the schools' retired comptroller, James Reter. Mr. Reter said the emphasis on cutting programs such as music and sports transportation is a strategy designed to alarm parents.

"I feel they're crocodile tears," Mr. Reter said. "If they would freeze everybody on step, they wouldn't have to cut any programs."

Ms. Murphy disagreed. She was among several parents, PTA officials and others who were consulted during the fall and winter before administrators drew up the list of programs to be cut.

"Even in that arena, we were careful not to undermine the quality of the staff we have," she said.

"We've gotten to the point where there are no right answers," Ms. Murphy said.

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