Shortfall possible for schools

Officials told deficit could reach $800,000

January 25, 2002|By Brenda J. Buote | Brenda J. Buote,SUN STAFF

Carroll school budget officials delivered somber news to the county commissioners yesterday, warning them of a possible $800,000 shortfall in the school budget this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

"This is the first time I've had to stand before a board of commissioners and tell them we may not end the year in [the] black," Walter F. Brilhart, budget supervisor for Carroll schools, told the commissioners and members of the Board of Education during a meeting of the two boards.

Brilhart blamed the possible shortfall on an unexpected increase in medical insurance claims and the rising number of students in need of mental health care and other services the school system cannot provide but must help cover.

"My fear is that we could have a $700,000 to $800,000 problem," Brilhart said. "Given the mild weather, we're hoping to realize some savings in fuel and gas, but we'll have to go deeper and look at other areas where we can garner funds."

The Carroll school system will receive about $192.8 million in county, state and federal aid this fiscal year to cover daily expenses. The county's portion is about $106 million.

School board President Susan W. Krebs said the school system is feeling the effects of the budget crunch and warned the shortfall could result in further belt-tightening.

"We're freezing money for temporary costs, such as substitute teachers, and we've asked the principals to slash expenses by 30 percent," Krebs said. "We were hoping to release those funds by the end of the year, but it doesn't look like we're going to be able to."

The commissioners and Carroll's budget director gave school officials little hope that aid would arrive from county coffers.

"It will be difficult to look at the county, or the state, to make up the shortfall of funds," county budget director Steve Powell told the school board. "Everyone is feeling the impact of the economic slowdown."

Powell said revenues for fiscal year 2002, which ends June 30, will be about $4 million less than predicted. The bleak economic picture might not brighten for the next few years, he said.

County employees were told last month not to expect salary raises this year or next, and county agencies were told to plan for no growth in their expenditures during the 2003 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

In other business, the commissioners and school officials agreed they would delay a $19.3 million renovation of North Carroll Middle School if the county fails to secure state funding for the project, which is scheduled to be completed 2004.

The two boards also agreed to keep a piece of property near Winters Mill High School outside Westminster. In a letter to the school board, Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier had suggested school officials consider selling the property and using the proceeds from the sale to finance other projects.

"In the near future, you do have a lot of projects, but we don't have a lot of money," Frazier told the school board. "I thought [selling the property] seemed like a good way to fund immediate needs."

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