School budget funds scarce

Superintendent to offer preliminary proposal tomorrow

At least $1.5 million shy

Insurance costs, expense of opening two facilities noted

January 22, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County's interim schools superintendent will present a budget proposal tomorrow that covers unavoidable costs of increasing health and property insurance and new school openings as well as modest increases to keep up with growth.

Even so, Charles I. Ecker's preliminary spending plan allocates more money than the school system is likely to receive from local, state and federal governments.

"Right now, without any salary increases for any employees, it looks like we'll be about $1.5 million to $2 million more than the revenue we expect to receive," Ecker said. "Any salary increases - and there will be salary increases - will increase that number."

The superintendent and his staff have estimated about $8.8 million in new expenditures for fiscal year 2003, which will begin July 1.

Expenses for opening two high schools account for nearly half of that sum. Second-year costs for Eldersburg's Century High, which opened in August, and start-up costs for Westminster's Winters Mill High, to open in August, total about $4.2 million. The budget proposal also includes $2.5 million for increases in medical insurance, $360,000 for increases for property and casualty insurance, $250,000 for increased transportation costs, $200,000 for additional special-education costs and $100,000 for rising utility costs.

Ecker also wants to add $1 million to hire 24 teachers to keep up with growth in a school system that will have gained 550 new students in two years without adding staff. He would like to hire 16 elementary school teachers to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through second grade, and five health teachers to increase planning time for elementary teachers.

The current budget proposal will not include money for staff raises until union negotiations have been completed.

"There are severe and significant needs in all of our schools," school board President Susan W. Krebs told nearly 100 people who gathered last week at Hampstead Elementary School for a town meeting. "But you can only get so much juice out of the lemon. You are preaching to the choir when you talk to us. You are preaching to the choir and we hear you."

Parents, teachers, staff and students should write to state officials, encouraging Gov. Parris N. Glendening in particular to fully fund the recommendations of a state commission that analyzed Maryland's educational funding, and to the county commissioners, who funnel taxpayer dollars to the school system, Krebs said.

She has been urging almost everyone she has spoken with in the past month to write letters in support of the Thornton Commission, the state panel that recommended Maryland spend $1.1 billion more on public schools to meet its constitutional commitment to funding schools in different jurisdictions more equitably.

The commission recommended that Carroll County receive an additional $65.4 million in school funding during the next five years.

Krebs also has noted frequently in recent weeks that Maryland ranks fifth in the nation in per-capita income but 36th in spending on education.

"We always beat on the county because they're the easiest to beat on and because [county budget Bureau Chief] Ted [Zaleski] is always here at our meetings," she said at a recent school board meeting. "But the state of Maryland is where we are obviously weak. This data shows us that's clearly where there's a significant gap."

Ecker said he is "cautiously optimistic" that Glendening will decide to fund some of the recommendations in the Thornton report, but that he has not counted on that money in his proposed spending plan.

He will present his proposal to the school board at a work session at 1 p.m. tomorrow. Several budget meetings will follow, all at 7 p.m.: Jan. 29 at Runnymede Elementary, Feb. 5 at Century High and Feb. 27 at Westminster High. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget at the final public meeting Feb. 27.

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