Filling the school-funding gap Carroll County: Closer cooperation between government and school board can save money.

October 31, 1997

TO MAKE UP AN expected $16 million shortage in the operating budgets for Carroll County schools over the next five years, considerable cost-trimming and additional funding will be needed. And if the recent agreement between county government and the Board of Education to spend $101 million to construct new schools over the next six years is to work, additional money and further budget cuts also will be needed.

The sobering fact is that after much public debate and governmental consultations earlier this year, after bond borrowing and earmarked piggyback taxes, both the yearly operating budgets and the construction budgets for county schools fall short of projected needs.

Some factors are beyond local control -- the state's intention to cut $2.5 million from aid to Carroll schools next year, for example.

One thing most governments do, however, is to include an inflation factor in future income-expense projections. That makes the forecast more accurate, even if the actual inflation rate may vary from the projected factor.

Carroll County agencies do it, in making up five-year forecasts. But the Carroll school board did not, in laying out its ambitious six-year construction program. The explanation: The state requires that costs be calculated in current-dollar figures only, in applications for state construction aid.

That's one monkey wrench in the works that must be eliminated immediately. Give the state the figures it wants (in an effort to qualify for construction funding). But give county authorities -- and taxpayers -- the honest, projected costs that include an inevitable inflation factor over a half-dozen years.

Another reasonable solution for economy that has too long been avoided is the sharing of services by county government and the schools.

The county has picked up school board contracts for trash removal and bus maintenance. County Budget Director Steven Powell points to insurance programs, warehousing and building maintenance as other promising areas for joint economies of scale.

Despite their longtime separate authorities, there is urgent need for greater, common sense cooperation between county and school board. Better budgeting and better economies are crucial to better schools.

Pub Date: 10/31/97

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