The county's budget director wants to hire an analyst to review spending by Carroll County schools, but the analyst would report to him rather than the school board.
The move could heal or worsen relations between the County Commissioners and Board of Education, which have debated spending and construction needs for years.
The commissioners contend the school could find ways to trim expenses. School officials counter that Carroll spends less than the state average per student. They say that even though Carroll's population is rising, the state has consistently rated the county's as one of Maryland's top three performing public school systems.
"I'm ambivalent about the idea," said C. Scott Stone, school board president.
"I think our staff has been open in their dealings with [the county]," he said. "I guess as a taxpayer, I would wonder aloud about adding another staff worker to the county payroll."
However, Stone said he is encouraged to see so much attention to the schools from this Board of Commissioners. School board members have often said the commissioners are making up for previous commissioners' inaction on needed school construction.
Stone pointed out that one thing the school board can't trim is enrollment -- now more than 25,000 students -- and said that drives costs.
Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown, who has often been skeptical of school spending, favors hiring a budget analyst.
If the analyst serves as a conduit to promote a better understanding among commissioners about school spending, it could improve the school board's credibility, he said.
"I think it would help the relationship," Brown said. "I think it's important [that] it not get interpreted as a 'gotcha' action."
Steven Powell, the county's director of management and budget, told the commissioners yesterday that the new position would help the effort by the schools and county to avoid a projected $16 million shortfall in the school budget by the year 2003.
The gap is based on using some operating budget money over the next several years to pay back anticipated loans to build several new schools.
Nearly 50 percent of the county budget goes to the school system. Until now, Powell has consulted with school administrators over the school budget, which must be approved annually by the commissioners.
"It's like a whole other county budget," Powell said.
With the proportion of county revenue that goes to schools, Powell said, the schools merit a full-time budget analyst from his office to review school spending in the same way his staff reviews smaller county departments.
"It would be the same kind of review we do of every other agency," Powell said. "I want someone who works with me, through me, alongside me."
He estimated that the analyst's salary would be $25,000 to $30,000. Powell called it a a worthy expense, considering the $16 million that must be trimmed over the next five years.
School administrators have given a sobering projection of revenue and expenses. By 2003, they expect a $14 million increase in revenue from the state and county. But they also expect that expenses will be $30 million more, leaving a $16 million gap.
Of that $16 million, $10 million would be needed to staff and maintain several new schools and additions.
For every school that is opened, officials said, a principal and at least one assistant principal must be hired, along with teachers, custodians and other staff; utilities must be provided; a library must be stocked with books and computers; and bus routes must be added.
The county budget for 1997- 1998 is $168 million, of which $82 million goes to the schools' operating budget. The school system budget for 1997-1998 is $149 million. About $60 million for the school budget comes from the state.
The school board would like to build four schools in the next five years at a total projected cost of at least $86 million.
Planned are a middle school in Westminster and a high school in southeastern Carroll by 2001; and a middle school in Hampstead and high school in Westminster by 2002.
The $86 million figure does not include planned renovations and additions at North Carroll and Sykesville middle schools.
Pub Date: 8/12/97