Cutting the school budget

Carroll County: Commissioners, school officials face difficult task in trimming $195 million request.

March 06, 2001

THERE'S SURELY some give and take in the $195 million school budget the school board sent to the county commissioners last week.

The request is 7 percent higher than this year's budget.

Ultimately, it's the job of the commissioners to decide how much money the school system gets - and the job of school board and administration to decide how to spend that money wisely.

But before that final May budget-setting verdict, the school system and county officials need to work out some manageable cuts and cost-shifting to make the education pill a little easier for taxpayers to swallow.

The Carroll school budget is not an unrealistic luxury model, but it's proposal unhappily coincides with an expected downturn in government revenues.

It is $6.6 million higher than Superintendent Charles I. Ecker's original proposal, $5.5 million more than what the county said it could provide and $1.9 million more than is currently guaranteed from the state share of funding.

It also reflects the needs of a rising student enrollment, the opening of a new South Carroll high school and a school system that has long ranked in the bottom tier of teacher-pupil ratios (also known as class size). Computers and stemming a textbook shortage are other major budget demands.

Nearly $6.6 million of the budget is for teacher and staff salary increases. In past years, this would have been the first item to see the budget ax.

But teachers are in short supply and the state is pushing all counties to raise their pay, with a 1-to-4 match of local increases. Counties are forced to give the annual increases, just to keep up with their neighbors competing for the same limited labor supply.

That leaves much less room for maneuvering. It will tax the skills of county officials so that they won't have to tax their constituents.

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