An education budget with few options School system has almost no money for additional teachers.

June 18, 1996

COUNTY EDUCATORS knew there wouldn't be much maneuvering room in next year's $424.5 million budget, but now they are discovering how little wiggle room there actually is. They are already telling parents that they may see more students in high school classes and more combined grade classrooms in elementary schools.

Simple budgetary arithmetic is partially responsible for the tight staffing situation. The school system's budget is about 1.4 percent larger than this year's budget. But if inflation of about 3 percent is factored in, the school system will actually be spending less in real dollars than it did this year. Compounding the problem is that the number of additional students will be increasing. Whether the number is 1,605 additional students, as school officials estimate, or 1,150, as projected by county officials, the result is the same: Fewer dollars must be spread among more students.

School board President Joseph H. Foster wants to keep within the budget categories the council passed. There will be little opportunity to move money from one function to another. This restriction means that the school system will have more difficulty than usual finding the money to pay for additional teachers. Administrators can hope that some high-paid teachers with considerable seniority retire, enabling them to hire less expensive beginning teachers. No one knows at this point how many teachers will be ending their careers this summer.

Other trade-offs include leaving guidance counselor positions vacant and using the money to hire teachers. But given the emphasis the school board and Superintendent Carol S. Parham are placing on improving school discipline, more -- not fewer -- guidance counselors will be needed.

In a worst-case scenario, the number of "splits" (elementary-school classes where two grades are combined) will start to increase. This comes after several years in which the number of splits fell. And more students will be packed into high school classes.

Parents may not be happy with this style of managing the school system's budget. If the classes become more crowded throughout the system, parents could pressure politicians to provide more money for education so this pattern is not repeated.

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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