Schools chief trims budget

Proposal is scaled back by nearly $3.5 million

Ecker calls cuts `painless'

Administrative staff to return to the classroom

April 24, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker unveiled a plan yesterday to prune nearly $3.5 million from the school system's proposed operating budget by putting off equipment replacements, sending administrative staff back into the classroom and allowing elementary class sizes to creep up by a child or two.

Ecker characterized many of his suggested 16 reductions to the $228 million spending plan as "painless," noting that several involve initiatives that school officials are not ready to launch or are unnecessary. And he said that no employees would lose their jobs.

"We will move some people around," the superintendent said of his proposal to reduce expenses at the school district's administrative offices by $400,000. "There will be opportunities to apply for another job or to teach."

Some of the reductions amount to accounting adjustments.

Projected health insurance expenses could be cut by $300,000 after two years of lower-than-expected costs, Ecker said. About $110,000 targeted for staff training and curriculum writing won't be needed because of fewer new state course requirements than anticipated. And because staff turnover has been higher than expected in recent years - meaning saving on salaries when a veteran teacher is replaced by someone with fewer years' experience - Ecker suggested cutting $200,000 there.

School board members will complete their budget request to the county commissioners for the fiscal year that begins in July at their meeting May 14. Board members must restructure a spending plan that is $3.48 million over budget to bring it in line with local, state and federal allocations.

Conspicuously untouched by Ecker's list of proposed cuts were staff raises.

The $6.2 million earmarked for salary increases would honor the second year of two-year contract agreements with five unions representing 2,800 school employees. Nearly a year of contentious contract talks ended in September with raises less than those initially promised to teachers and a work-to-rule job action that affected dozens of public schools in the county.

"I don't think it's on anyone's agenda right now to cut that," Walter Brilhart, the school system's budget supervisor, said in an interview after yesterday afternoon's school board meeting.

More trims possible

The county commissioners are to adopt their budget - more than half of which goes to the public school system -May 22. County Budget Director Ted Zaleski noted that more cuts to the school system's spending request will be necessary if the commissioners' proposed income and recordation tax increases do not go through.

In other school board business, members voiced preliminary support for the least expensive of three plans to fulfill a state requirement that all kindergarten pupils be enrolled in full-day programs by the 2007-2008 school year.

But board members asked that the early stages of the $5 million four-year plan be as temporary as possible until school officials are certain that money for the statewide initiative will not evaporate.

"If the state yanks it and we're in the midst of building, we're spending money on something we don't really want," board member Laura K. Rhodes said. "Do something more temporary than bricks and mortar until the state figures out what they're doing."

Diploma for veteran

Also yesterday, the board awarded a high school diploma to Francis N. Utz, 78, of Hampstead who left the now-defunct Hampstead High School in his sophomore year after he was drafted during World War II.

Based out of England for more than a year, the Army Air Forces flight engineer and top turret gunner flew 27 missions over Germany in a B-17 Flying Fortress bomber.

Carroll was the first county in Maryland to fully take advantage of a bill passed during the 2000 legislative session that allows local school systems to award diplomas to World War II veterans who left school early to join the military.

Carroll recognized 12 such veterans in November 2001 and school officials indicated they periodically would award more diplomas as they located eligible veterans.

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