Board forced to cut jobs

School officials decide to slash 30 proposed teacher positions

`Delicate balancing act'

$1 million withheld by county until after performance audit

June 30, 1999|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Set to receive fewer state and county dollars than expected, the Carroll County Board of Education slashed yesterday about 30 of the 65 teacher positions it planned to add in the fall.

The board's decision deals a blow to the school system's efforts to reduce class sizes -- particularly in the county's five high schools, where enrollment is expected to increase by 160 students this fall.

Although administrators were hoping to hold average high school class size to about 25 students, that number could rise to 26 or 27 as a result of the cuts, said Gregory Eckles, supervisor of secondary schools.

As many as 400 high school academic classes could have more than 30 students next year, Eckles said.

"It's always a delicate balancing act," said Superintendent William H. Hyde at a special board meeting yesterday, where the panel reluctantly approved $4 million in cuts from its fiscal 2000 budget.

"These are just incredibly difficult times, and the situation we find ourselves in pushes us against the wall," he added.

The school system's $173 million operating budget delivered to county commissioners in February was apparently optimistic.

Since then, the county underfunded that budget by $2.8 million. A state bill Carroll schools were counting on to deliver $1.2 million to help reduce class size was defeated in Annapolis in April. The county lost an additional $286,000 in state funding.

The original budget called for the creation of about 65 teacher positions to account for growth, reduce class size, and give elementary schoolteachers more planning time. Forced to cut almost $850,000 in teacher pay, the board could salvage about 35 of those positions.

Hyde pledged this year to create additional elementary school positions to allow teachers more planning time, but all of those 14 positions were cut yesterday. Instead, schools are being asked to find other ways, such as hiring hourly cafeteria monitors, to eke out more planning time.

Hyde stressed that he would not have allowed those positions to be lost if acceptable alternatives had not been found.

School board members, clearly frustrated by the shortfall, tinkered with the administration's proposed cuts to save what positions they could.

In what appeared as much a demonstration of resolve as a budget readjustment, the board approved an amendment, introduced by member Joseph D. Mish Jr., to hold onto two teachers by eliminating three other proposed positions: a Spanish teacher, a technology teacher for troubled youths at Gateway, and an administrative supervisor focusing on reading in the elementary schools.

"If we can put more teachers back in the classroom, so teachers could know their students again, we wouldn't need all these specialists," said board member Susan Krebs. "There's no extra money for frills. We need to focus on what will improve student achievement."

The school system boasts that 62.5 percent of all employees are in the classroom and in direct contact with students. The county ranks eighth in the state in the percent of employees in the classroom.

The budget passed yesterday also included more than $650,000 worth of administrative cuts, eliminating about 18 proposed positions ranging from secretarial clerks to refrigerator specialists.

The proposed budget for textbooks and instructional supplies was slashed by more than $200,000.

"We never get the money we need for our schools," said board member Ann M. Ballard. "Every year, it's cut, cut, cut. This is distressing."

It could get worse.

The county commissioners are withholding an additional $1 million from the schools because they want the school system to undergo a performance audit.

Walter Brilhart, the school system's supervisor of budget, said the budget approved yesterday assumed that money would be in the school's coffers by next year. If it doesn't show up, he said, more cuts will be made.

Hyde said yesterday he expects the audit to take place and the money to be freed by the county. After the commissioners and school board meet next month, he said, an audit plan amenable to both sides will likely be worked out.

"Performance audits are a great interest of mine and a great love," he said. "I'm such a proponent. I see it as a nonissue."

Pub Date: 6/30/99

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