$241 million operating budget proposed for county schools

Uncertainty remains over funding from state

Carroll County

January 15, 2004|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

Carroll County schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker unveiled a proposed operating budget last night that would provide money to begin phasing in state-mandated full-day kindergarten, prepare to open Parr's Ridge Elementary in Mount Airy and continue an aggressive initiative to replace classroom computers on a five-year schedule.

The $241 million spending plan also includes $1.9 million to hire teachers and other staff members needed to keep up with the 650 new children expected to enroll next school year at county schools.

Christopher Hartlove, the school system's budget supervisor, told school board members that preparing this year's spending proposal was particularly difficult because of the uncertainty over state funding for educational reforms and over the modified funding formulas included in the Thornton legislation approved in 2002.

Budget staff members typically start by looking at expected revenues, Hartlove told them. But this year, he said, school officials remain unsure whether the system will receive the $4.9 million for which it is eligible through Thornton.

"We have significant funding on the line there," he said.

Missing from the budget proposal presented last night was money for employee raises, although Ecker said funds will be dedicated to salary increases after the school system's five labor groups finish contract negotiations.

The two largest unions - the 2,030-member Carroll County Education Association, which represents teachers, media specialists and guidance counselors; and the 515-member Carroll Association of School Employees, which includes instructional assistants, secretaries and nurses - began talks with school board negotiators Tuesday.

Negotiations also have begun with the union representing administrators and supervisors, and with another for maintenance workers, custodians and bus drivers. Only the system's food service workers have not started talks.

Ecker has asked all groups to complete bargaining by Feb. 19, when the board is scheduled to approve a budget to send to the county commissioners.

The cost of "step and longevity increases" - the automatic pay raises built into salary scales - would be $2.6 million, Ecker estimated.

Each 1 percent increase in salaries for all employees would cost county taxpayers $1.4 million.

Effective Feb. 27, when a half-year 2 percent raise kicks in, starting pay for a new teacher in Carroll County will be $35,058, ranking the county seventh in the state in entry-level teacher salaries.

Top scale in Carroll schools - for a teacher with a master's degree, 60 additional graduate credits and 27 years of teaching experience - will reach $68,850, ranking the county eighth in Maryland.

Ecker's budget proposal also includes about $2.1 million to hire 69 new instructional staff members, including 50 teachers and eight high school reading specialists.

It also contains about $65,650 to hire a custodian, a principal and a secretary for the first six months of preparations for the scheduled opening of Parr's Ridge Elementary in August 2005.

The spending request includes about $470,760 to hire assistant principals for facilities management for all seven county high schools.

The new administrators would supervise after-school activities and coordinate the use of their buildings by school sports teams, drama clubs and other extracurricular groups, as well as community organizations, said Gregory Eckles, a top administrator.

There are three public hearings scheduled on the budget proposal: Feb. 5 at Spring Garden Elementary in Hampstead, Feb. 10 at Century High in Eldersburg and Feb. 19 at Winters Mill High just outside Westminster. Each meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.

The school board is scheduled to adopt a budget Feb. 19 after the public hearing.

In other business, the board unanimously approved a $24 million plan to renovate and expand the Carroll County Career and Technology Center in Westminster and to maintain - but not offer new programs at - the Career and Technology Center at South Carroll High in Winfield.

The South Carroll center would be renovated as part of a modernization of South Carroll High, which is scheduled to begin in 2010.

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