Hyde unveils school budget

$184.6 million plan asks $15 million more than current funding

`Great opportunity'

Handful of parents attend the first of three public forums

February 08, 2000|By David L. Greene | David L. Greene,SUN STAFF

Carroll County school officials methodically outlined last night their proposed $184.6 million budget for next year as a handful of parents took notes.

"We know this is a time of great opportunity," said Superintendent William H. Hyde, explaining that the state's robust economy is one reason he is asking for what would be the largest increase in education funding in the county since 1991. The proposed spending plan represents a $15 million increase over the current budget.

"We are lining up with all of the agencies in the state, seeking a nice share of the surplus," Hyde said.

The public forum, held at Francis Scott Key High School, was sparsely attended -- school officials easily outnumbered the parents. It was a stunning contrast to this time last year, when meetings were jammed with people making loud demands for more planning time for elementary teachers.

Last night's meeting was highlighted by a brief but impassioned plea from Ralph Blevins, a seventh-grade teacher at North Carroll Middle and former president of the Carroll County Education Association. He warned the Board of County Commissioners not to cut the budget.

"We have to do better in funding or we are cheating our children," Blevins said. "A budget has to show leadership in education, and this budget does that."

Last year, school officials were forced to cut teacher positions from the budget after the county refused to pay $2.8 million of its requested share.

Only one other speaker -- a parent asking for more money for guidance counselors -- stepped to the microphone during the meeting, which lasted less than an hour.

A second budget hearing will be held at 7 tonight at Liberty High School. A third meeting is scheduled for Feb. 24 at Westminster High. At that meeting, the school board is expected to adopt a final budget and send it to the county commissioners.

School officials stressed last night that they are committed to adding new teachers and reducing class size. Hyde's budget includes $2.1 million to create about 65 teaching positions and another $542,000 for 20 new instructional positions in special education.

Vernon F. Smith, assistant superintendent for administration, pointed to a slide showing that as of 1998, more than 61 percent of total staff in the school system were teachers. In that category, Smith noted, Carroll improved its state ranking from eighth to fourth between 1997 and 1998.

"This is reflective of some of the overload expressed by our staff over the past couple of years," Smith said. "And these are areas we have focused on as we built this year's budget."

In presenting the budget this year, school officials are taking a more forward-looking approach. Their slides showed how much initiatives would cost this year, and how much money they would request four years into the future.

One proposal is to install "distance learning" technology that would allow students -- who, for example, may have medical problems that prevent them from coming to school -- to view lectures from home. School officials are not asking for money for the program next year, but laid out the plan to parents last night and said they would ask for $85,000 over the following two years.

The presenters seemed surprised last night by the tiny audience. Dorothy Mangle, the assistant superintendent for instruction, said the administration took pains this year to send information about the budget home to parents in mailings before the hearings began. For the first time, the school system also conducted a phone-in poll for residents to voice concerns and make requests as Hyde was putting the budget together.

"We addressed issues raised in the community," said Mangle. "They may feel there is no need to come forward."

But Susan Ullrich, a Charles Carroll Elementary parent, said she has heard many parents talking about wanting more teachers than are included in the proposal. Many are concerned, she said, that Hyde's current plan will not reduce class size sufficiently. She said if parents don't voice concerns now, they will not have another opportunity.

"When it comes to the point next year when your kids are in a class of 30 or 26 students," Ullrich said, "you'll have no right to gripe then."

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