School officials say budget falls short

$98.1 million proposal not enough, some say

May 05, 2000|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Teachers and school officials told the county commissioners last night that the proposed spending plan for next fiscal year, which includes money to reduce class sizes and put more computers in classrooms, will not meet the needs of the county's 27,000 students.

"Residential growth is outstripping the ability of county government to meet the needs and expectations of its citizens," said C. Scott Stone, school board president. "The time for action is now. I urge you to make the difficult decisions necessary to provide the much-needed funds to the school system."

The budget proposal, presented to the public during a two-hour hearing, drew comments from about 40 people, many of whom were teachers and education officials.

About 150 people, including more than a dozen county employees, attended the meeting at Westminster High School.

The commissioners have proposed giving the Board of Education about $3.5 million less than it requested to cover the day-to-day cost of running the county's 39 schools in fiscal 2001, which begins July 1.

School officials asked for $101.6 million -- including $9 million in new funding, more than the total of new revenue available to the county. The commissioners have proposed $98.1 million, which includes about $6.9 million in new spending.

Several teachers said the shortfall would mean crowded classrooms and strained resources. Carroll schools rank 21st of 24 systems in the state in student-teacher ratio. Last year, the county ranked 23rd.

In an effort to reduce class sizes by attracting and retaining teachers, the three-member Board of County Commissioners last month approved raising teacher salaries by 4 percent. The move occurred after Gov. Parris N. Glendening promised an additional 1 percent in state funds for teacher raises to those counties that gave the 4 percent.

Several members of the school system's support staff -- bus drivers, secretaries and custodians -- asked the commissioners to raise their salaries by 4 percent, instead of the 3 percent included in the proposed budget. An additional 1 percentage point increase would cost $108,000.

"I think you should look at this as an investment for clean and safe schools," said Carl Welsh, a custodian at Linton Springs Elementary.

Under the commissioners' proposals, the county operating budget -- which covers the day-to-day cost of running county government and its agencies -- would rise by 3 percent, from $199.3 million to nearly $205 million. The capital budget -- which pays for construction projects -- would drop from $73.3 million to $64.9 million.

The most expensive item on the commissioners' proposed list of construction projects is a $35.4 million Westminster High School. Overall, school spending would consume about half of the proposed $269.9 million budget.

The commissioners' proposed spending plan was drafted behind closed doors with the help of county budget director Steven D. Powell. It is based on the current property tax rate, $2.62 per $100 of assessed value, and a local piggyback income tax of 55 percent of the state income tax.

The proposed budget allocates $4.8 million for the firemen's association, about $800,000 less than the association had requested. About 30 volunteer firefighters attended yesterday's hearing to show support for their companies.

"We need your help to keep the fire stations open and make sure we are able to continue providing the level of service the citizens expect," said Dave Franklin, a volunteer firefighter for the Westminster station.

A handful of people asked the commissioners to support the local community television station. "Public access television can and does unify a community," Richard Nacewicz, an Eldersburg resident, told the board. "I urge you to support the station."

The commissioners are expected to adopt a budget May 23.

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