Educators oppose budget changes

Commissioners want to set school board's spending priorities

May 25, 2000|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

If Carroll County commissioners approve their proposed education budget, teachers and guidance counselors will spend more time on paperwork and less time with students, school board members and staff said last night at a budget work session.

By proposing to slash funds to the category of midlevel administration -- a category that school officials acknowledge sounds bureaucratic -- the commissioners would eliminate clerical staff who develop student databases for teachers, support teachers with grade reports and schedules, assist guidance counselors with calculating grade point averages and provide students and parents with transcripts, report cards and schedules.

"Those people alleviate the time teachers spend on paperwork and they help guidance counselors have more time with students," said Vernon F. Smith Jr., as- sistant superintendent for administration.

Trying to funnel more money directly into classrooms, the commissioners for the first time are allocating school money to specific budget categories, such as textbooks, administration and instructional staff, rather than letting the superintendent and school administrators set spending priorities.

On Tuesday, the commissioners approved a budget that gives the Board of Education about $98.1 million -- about $3.5 million less than the board requested to cover the day-to-day cost of running the county's 39 schools in fiscal year 2001.

Board members have not hidden their displeasure with the commissioners' extra involvement in this year's budget process.

"They can clearly set category totals and then leave us alone," board President C. Scott Stone said at last night's work session.

"We have the right by law to do whatever we want with it. It's immaterial if the commissioners support something if we have the money in the category," Stone said.

"We need to be very careful about who's calling the shots in education because it's the Board of Education which calls the shots, not the county commissioners," he said.

Without affecting per-pupil spending, school administrators cut about $3 million from their original budget request and moved $4.2 million among various categories to bring their funding priorities closer to the commissioners' proposed totals for specific categories.

But differences remain.

The school system's funding request for administration, midlevel administration and instructional salaries and wages remains $496,430 higher than the amount allocated by the commissioners.

Conversely, the commissioners offered $258,434 more for textbooks and instructional supplies than school officials say they need.

Although board members and staff are clearly hoping the commissioners will shift some of that money into categories where the school system has come up short, Julia Walsh Gouge, president of the commissioners, has said she is not interested in moving more money into administrative positions.

"I've spent 10 years on this board and it's always the same thing," said board member Ann M. Ballard. "We're always trying to improve the system, improve the classrooms and it always comes down to telling the teachers to do more, work harder, and we never get any more money."

The board will meet Tuesday to vote on budget category totals and forward final requests to the commissioners.

The commissioners are expected to meet June 6 to adopt spending limits in each school budget category.

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