More spending tacked onto schools budget

Krebs urges crowd to ask commissioners, state to cover costs

February 28, 2002|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

After an hour and 15 minutes of presentations, citizen pleas and discussion, school board member C. Scott Stone summed up what seemed to be the theme of last night's hearing on the school system's operating budget.

"We're on a roll," he said, prompting chuckles from his fellow board members and a bit of eye rolling from the county number-crunchers in the room. "We might as well go for it."

By the time they were done, Carroll County's Board of Education had added more than $1 million for new staff and new programs to a budget request that is now about $7.8 million more than county officials have said taxpayers can afford. The additions raised the school board's operating budget request to $212.1 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

"I know it sounds like we have added a lot of things, but there are a lot of things left on our list," board President Susan W. Krebs said, referring to a long list of board members' priorities that were not included in the superintendent's original budget proposal.

"It sounds good and feels good, but until we get dollars to fund it, that's where it counts," she said, encouraging parents, teachers, staff and students to write to the county commissioners - and especially state legislators and the governor - to ensure that funding is available to pay for the budget approved last night.

"We need to be putting our efforts at the state level so we're not always back here begging for the things that we desperately need," Krebs told the 60 parents and staff who gathered at Westminster High School for last night's budget hearing. "These are not extras, these are things we really need to educate our children."

The "nonextras" that the board added included five guidance counselors, eight half-time instructional assistants for the largest elementary schools, eight high school teachers and additional money for intervention programs.

Interim schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker unveiled his proposed $204.2 million proposed operating budget five weeks ago, requesting $1.8 million more than school officials expected to receive from local, state and federal governments. He noted at the time that the gap would grow when employee raises were added to his spending request upon completion of negotiations between the school system and the unions that represent its 2,800 employees.

Since then, Ecker learned that Carroll would receive $1.8 million more than projected from the state because of the county's continued enrollment growth and diminished wealth status relative to other counties.

But he also added $6.7 million to his spending request to cover salary increases for all employees - a dollar amount that he described last night as "a place holder" until negotiations are completed.

The new total approved last night reflects an $18.4 million - or 9.5 percent - increase over the current year's budget.

With a guarantee from the superintendent that employee raises would be included in the budget request, Carroll County Education Association President Cindy Cummings-Wheeler thanked the board for its commitment to raises and asked them to do more.

"Salary and benefits are very important, but besides that, it is the workload," she said.

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