School officials plan to seek increased spending Commissioners will offer amount near mandated 'maintenance of effort'

December 18, 1997|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,SUN STAFF

Carroll's school superintendent and school board president are taking a more assertive position to urge the County Commissioners to increase school spending for the 1998-1999 school year.

"The position I'll take is that of supporting a budget that I'm persuaded satisfies the needs of the students," said school board President C. Scott Stone after a quarterly meeting yesterday with the County Commissioners. "My sense is it will be beyond the [amount] the county has put on the table."

The current school year's budget is $149 million. Superintendent Brian Lockard will unveil the proposal for next year at the next school board meeting Jan. 14.

The commissioners have told the schools they will fund a budget for the coming school year that is slightly more than the state-mandated "maintenance of effort." That formula requires the county to spend at least as much money per pupil on classroom instruction as in the previous year.

Commissioners Richard T. Yates and Donald I. Dell both praised the school system for using money efficiently while maintaining second place in state tests released last week, just behind the much wealthier Howard County.

But Carroll has lost ground in spending on students, dropping from 16th to 20th place out of 24 jurisdictions for spending per pupil, and from 22nd to 23rd place in its student-teacher ratio.

Lockard said a maintenance-of-effort budget would make that ratio even worse and result in larger classes.

But Yates said he didn't see how the county could provide more money without raising taxes, which he is unwilling to do. For staff raises this year, he said, he would be unwilling to pay for more than the cost-of-living increase provided to people on fixed incomes such as Social Security.

The past three school budgets have been based on maintenance of effort, and some school advocates, including teacher union President Ralph Blevins, criticized the school board for not asking for more.

Until now, the board and administrators defended their conservative requests as pragmatic, considering the even more conservative position by commissioners unwilling to raise taxes.

But this year, Lockard said that he is compelled to present what the schools need, not what he thinks the commissioners will provide. His proposal will be voted on by the school board, which could reduce or add to it before forwarding it to the commissioners in February.

"I can't, in good conscience, bring a budget to the [school] board that meets the projected revenue," Lockard said. "It will be something over that figure, and I know that's not a popular move. But I feel I have to represent the children of this school system."

Stone said maintenance-of-effort budgets have ignored inflation, and the schools have lost more than $8 million in buying power.

Lockard said that maintaining the current level of county funding also ignores the $1 million cost of opening two school buildings -- the rebuilt Elmer Wolfe Elementary and the new Linton Springs Elementary -- costs associated with the renovation and expansion of Francis Scott Key High School, and the relocation of school administrative offices to the Winchester Building.

Joseph D. Mish Jr., another school board member, said he hopes the board and commissioners can work out a way to provide more money for schools.

"My position is you try to work with people, and each side has to give a little bit," Mish said. "We have a pretty good relationship [with the commissioners]. It's a political process.

"I'm going to look for areas where we can cut to keep costs down," he said. "We don't have Howard County's wealth."

Pub Date: 12/18/97

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