Carroll County public schools would seem to function like a well-run business. With conservative spending, schools turn out a product -- in the form of student academic performance -- that is consistently rated among the best in Maryland.
But in his proposed operating budget for 1998-1999, departing Superintendent Brian L. Lockard has sent a message that the bottom-line mentality that has prevailed on school spending has to change. Otherwise, he fears the quality of the final product will begin to deteriorate rapidly.
"I'm seeing where we're stretched and the impact it's going to have on staff and students if we continue that pattern," said Lockard, who will retire at the end of the school year.
"Unfortunately, we've lost ground already."
The school board will hear final public comment tomorrow on the proposed $159 million budget. The board will adopt a spending plan afterward, and it will be forwarded to the County Commissioners by March 1.
Lockard said his proposed spending plan -- his fourth budget since he became superintendent in 1994 -- attempts to do more than keep pace with growth, which will add 596 more students to schools next year.
It includes money for more teachers to reduce class size, more special education teaching assistants, technology education equipment and replacement textbooks.
Carroll has the second-worst teacher-student ratio in the state, based on the number of staff per 1,000 students.
And preliminary data from the state show the county has dropped a notch in per pupil spending from 21st to 22nd of 24 school systems.
"We continue to fall a couple notches every year, even though we're getting almost the highest achievements in the state," said Richard Huss, principal at Charles Carroll Elementary School. "I feel adamantly if these budget issues are not addressed, we'll start to feel the negative effects in years to come."
Lockard's proposed spending plan exceeds this year's budget by $9.7 million and includes $2.6 million more than the County Commissioners have said they are willing to contribute.
"I think the commissioners understand why I've asked for what I've asked for," Lockard said. "They may not agree with it, but I have to ask responsibly for what I need."
In recent years, Lockard said education spending in Carroll and other counties has adhered to the state's "maintenance-of-effort" law, which requires localities to maintain per-pupil spending on education or lose state funding.
Last year, the commissioners approved $900,000 above maintenance, but Lockard said more is needed.
Carroll school officials are projecting a 2.3 percent increase in the student population -- the second-highest growth in the state behind Howard County's expected 2.5 percent increase.
Lockard's budget seeks $87.5 million from the county, $5.8 million more than last year. The state contribution to the budget is $67.1 million, and the federal portion $2.6 million.
Linda Murphy, president of Carroll's PTA Council, said the group supports Lockard's spending plan.
"I do think we do an awful lot with a little, and I'm not convinced that's something we should be proud of forever," she said.
Carroll managed to maintain its second-place showing, behind much wealthier Howard County, in the Maryland Student Performance Assessment Program results for the 1996-1997 school year. But for the first time, Carroll schools recorded no increase in their MSPAP composite score.
County educators point to the disparity between per pupil spending in Carroll, which ranks 21st at $5,828, and Howard, second at $6,987, to emphasize the achievements of local schools.
"That speaks volumes about the efficiency and dedication of our work force," said Walter Brilhart, Carroll's director of administrative services.
Much of the extra $2.6 million in the proposed budget would go toward easing stresses on the work force. It includes $707,015 to hire 18 teachers to reduce class sizes. Eleven of those positions are dedicated to reading instruction in kindergarten, first and second grades, where students need more staff time. Lockard said the hope is to reduce the need for more costly reading remediation classes for older children.
Lockard has also asked for $510,891 for 19 special education teachers and assistants, $189,000 for additional technology education equipment, such as computer software, and $105,424 for textbook replacements.
"For the most part I wanted it to be things that go directly to kids," Lockard said of his request for more money.
The budget also includes $972,000 for staff for the new Linton Springs Elementary School and the expanded Francis Scott Key High and Elmer Wolfe Elementary schools, plus additional custodians and other staff for a new central office.
"I think it's a good budget," said school board member Ann M. Ballard, who pointed out that recent maintenance-of-effort budgets don't take inflation into account and the increasing cost of books and employee benefits.
Some board members said they would like to see the budget include funding for more teachers to address crowding at middle and high schools, where classes have up to 40 students.
"That's where the bulge is," said Ballard, referring to the largest concentration of pupils in the county's student population. "We're just treading water. It's becoming a situation where we need teachers in the classroom now."
The school board will meet at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Westminster High School to adopt the operating budget for the 1998-1999 school year.
Pub Date: 2/22/98