PTA to join deliberations on budget Commissioners invite parents to observe and offer suggestions

Work begins in September

Aim is to enhance citizen understanding of county finances

July 22, 1998|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

For the first time, the County Commissioners have invited PTA representatives to attend budget meetings in an attempt to educate parents about local school funding and seek their input in spending decisions.

Parents will join county and school officials in September as they begin to develop budgets for all county departments, including Carroll's public schools.

Commissioner W. Benjamin Brown said he came up with the idea after meeting in the spring with PTA groups from individual schools.

"I thought it would be more helpful and productive if PTAs were plugged in on the county budget process and the [school] superintendent's budget process prior to their adoptions," Brown said.

He theorized that parents would gain a better understanding of the county's spending capabilities with regard to schools if they were aware of the county's total budget responsibilities.

"We're looking to give people a broader perspective," Brown said.

Laura Rhodes, Carroll County PTA Council president, said she welcomes the invitation to attend county budget meetings.

"I'm very much a believer in having a round-table discussion as you're developing things," Rhodes said. "It never hurts to have input from all sources before you make up your mind."

But Rhodes noted that the effort will be worthwhile only if parents' suggestions and comments are taken seriously.

"That will make the difference -- whether the people they're asking input from are truly listened to or whether it just looks good," Rhodes said.

Superintendent William H. Hyde applauded the commissioners' attempt to benefit from parents' firsthand knowledge of the strengths and shortcomings of county schools.

"I can't think of a better group for the county to go to," Hyde said. "It benefits the county government because they have expanded their sources of information; the benefit for the citizens is having a better understanding of what's being attempted in the provision of services to all citizens of the county."

Typically, parents first see the superintendent's proposed budget in January when it is presented to the Board of Education. Several PTA representatives generally attend the public hearings over the next two months to voice their opinions on the spending plan.

"Right now they're limited to an after-the-fact comment on the superintendent's budget," Brown said. "And I think it rather shortchanges their ability to have meaningful input."

County budget director Steven D. Powell said he sees the inclusion of PTA representatives in the process as an opportunity to introduce residents to the complexities involved in the creation of a county budget.

"We want to let them know what our revenues are, where we are getting them and where they're going," Powell said. "We want to help them really understand our five-year operating plan, our five-year capital plan and to keep them abreast of where we are financially."

Jean Wasmer, a vice president with the PTA council, said she was eager for a chance to learn more about what goes into developing the school budget.

Although school officials routinely invite PTA representatives to ask questions and offer comments on the superintendent's proposed budget, Wasmer said the document is extremely complicated.

"I always say, 'Sure, I'll give my input as soon as somebody interprets it for me,' " Wasmer said. "Understanding it is what is so difficult. For the most part it's just so overwhelming."

Pub Date: 7/22/98

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