Changes in schools operation discussed

Board begins process on new facilities plan

March 01, 2001|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

The Carroll County Board of Education discussed yesterday possible changes to the way it plans, budgets and prioritizes school construction, from calculating school capacity to evaluating the fluctuation of families in current and planned subdivisions.

Yesterday's work session was the board's first step in a yearlong process of developing the facilities master plan, a blueprint that establishes the school system's capital spending and sets priorities for school construction and renovation projects for the next 10 years.

But rather than discussing what facilities director Kathleen Sanner called "the nitty-gritty" of this year's specific projects - that debate occurs later - the board spent 3 1/2 hours discussing the process of developing the 10-year plan.

They tackled big-picture issues: Would the board rather see a plan that lists needed projects without factoring in the cost, for instance, or would members prefer a scaled-down plan that lists only projects that are affordable?

They decided they want both.

"I think we need to list the needs because we need to put them out there," board President Susan W. Krebs said, "but at some point we need to balance it with affordability because otherwise [the county commissioners] will decide that for us."

Krebs and board members Susan Holt and Gary W. Bauer also discussed the need to align the facilities plan with its impact on the operating budget - something Sanner and county budget director Steven D. Powell acknowledged that the two staffs have not done well in the past.

Many have blamed this year's budget pinch on the financial drain of opening two new high schools.

The budget approved Tuesday night by the school board for the fiscal year that begins July 1 includes $2.6 million to open Century High in Eldersburg and $143,000 to hire a principal, office manager and two maintenance workers for Winters Mill High. That school is under construction outside Westminster and is scheduled to open next year.

"Next year, if we don't get some legislation passed, we're going to be $5 million in the hole before we even get started," Powell said, listing $3 million to open Winters Mill and $2 million in employee raises among the expenditures that will drain the county's pot of new schools revenue. "If we can align the capital plan with the operating budget - and it may require some difficult decisions - then I think we'll be much better off."

The school board also expressed interest in:

Better coordination of the timeline for when the board, county government and state planners make funding decisions for school construction.

Improving the way student enrollment projections are calculated.

Finding a way to close in the four remaining open-space schools in the county.

Limiting construction decisions that contradict guidelines that determine when the county builds a school or addition or renovates a school.

Board members Thomas G. Hiltz, who is overseas on military duty, and C. Scott Stone did not attend yesterday's meeting.

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