Schools don't use 'smoke and mirrors' in presenting budget...

LETTERS

February 11, 1996

Schools don't use 'smoke and mirrors' in presenting budget 0) for next year

I write in response to Carroll County Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown's recent Sunday morning radio address in which he accused the school system of using "smoke and mirrors" in presenting the budget.

His metaphor is reminiscent of a former commissioner's charge that a meticulously prepared and excellently presented explanation of the issue at hand was a "dog and pony show." During the eight years I have served as a member of the Carroll County Board of Education, we have attempted to establish and maintain a productive working relationship with our commissioners. I believe we have been fairly successful in that and I will share these thoughts with Mr. Brown personally. I send this letter in order for the public to learn the "other side of the story."

What is before the public at this time is what is called the "superintendent's budget." This means that following careful analysis of the needs of the school system, the superintendent brings a budget before the school board for our approval, with whatever changes we wish to make. Prior to the board's vote, the budget is presented to the public in three evening sessions, across the county, to garner input and reaction.

The timeframe of the process this year has been lengthened at the request of the Carroll County Council of PTAs. After hearing all public comment, the board, in a special evening meeting this Wednesday at Westminster High School, will hear final comments, make adjustments and vote. At this time, the budget becomes the official version, which is then sent to the commissioners. The commissioners incorporate what they can into their budget and go through a similar public hearing process.

Next, I will address the issue of our having "known about the budget crunch for over a year." Yes, this is true. What is also true is that we have been adjusting and readjusting, finding savings in some areas and applying it to others, seeking grants, economizing and postponing (frequently indefinitely) improvements.

Last fiscal year, we were told to "use it or lose it." So principals were directed to make purchases for the following year of instructional materials, texts and equipment.

Given the local budget predictions, the possibility (or probability) of major cutbacks in state and federal contributions, the opening of a new middle school (always a budget drain) and the influx of 900 new students (with the resulting need for additional teachers and supplies), we understood the grim realities. Something, many things, must go. Our staff sought the input of a wide range of supervisors, principals, teachers and parents. Suggestions were prioritized and presented to the board. These were purposefully not released to the press until this point to prevent public distress, not to encourage it.

The issue of staff raises -- these, too, are part of the suggested cuts. What must be understood here is that Carroll County Public Schools is the largest employer in the county, with five employee groups. As required by state law, salaries for the units must be negotiated. We will be entering the second year of a multi-year contract in which all groups are scheduled to receive a 3 percent raise. These contracts were a result of public, good-faith negotiations prior to the notification of the fiscal situation. They also contain, however, the stipulation that these agreements are dependent upon full funding of the budget by the commissioners.

It has always been my contention that it is the responsibility of the school board to inform the commissioners of what is necessary to maintain the level of achievement we have and what is necessary to make improvements. It is then the commissioners' responsibility to raise the funds and allocate them as they will.

This year, unlike in the past, the commissioners have already set our budgetary limit. Now, the board must adjust. I hope the public will understand that with the flat financial situation, there is no point in attacking the commissioners for money they do not have. The school system is fortunate that with the "maintenance of effort" statute, we will at least be allocated what we received last year. Carroll County Public Schools do have a history of cooperation with county government. Several years ago, when the county experienced serious shortfalls, we pulled together and were able to return significant dollars -- not from "extras," but through judicious spending and reductions in many areas. This letter comes in that spirit of cooperation and for informational purposes.

Carolyn Scott

Westminster

The writer is a member of the Carroll County Board of Education.

but ignore hard times, splurge on bureaucrats

What excuse could there be for using children as pawns in a budget struggle? Sending students home from school in tears, bearing notes that warn of cuts to programs, begs this reply.

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