Carroll schools face tough funding decisions

Board seeks $7.5 million over expected revenue

February 21, 2005|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,SUN STAFF

When the Carroll County school board adopted a $269.4 million operating budget for the coming fiscal year - nearly $7.5 million more than the system's projected revenue - one member alluded to the "day of reckoning."

That's the day in late May or early June when the five-member board will know how much state and county funding the district will receive and what it can actually afford to do.

"A lot can happen between now and June, when we approve a modified budget," board member C. Scott Stone said when the board adopted its budget last week.

Stone said the board would probably face difficult decisions in the months ahead when it's time to balance the budget, but he insisted that it was important to reveal a complete picture in its appeal for county funding.

"It's a time to put into the budget what we believe we need," Stone said Friday. "We're never going to receive more than we ask for. ... [But] we should ask for more than we expect to receive."

School officials have projected revenue for fiscal year 2006 to be about $262 million from county, state and federal resources, said Christopher Hartlove, the district's budget supervisor.

The board will send the request to the county commissioners, who will determine the local contribution by May.

Schools Superintendent Charles I. Ecker proposed an operating budget of about $267 million that includes: 3 percent across-the-board pay raises for teachers and other district employees at a cost of about $7 million; $2.5 million to begin implementing full-day kindergarten; adding about 144 instructional positions - including teachers, instructional assistants and resource teachers - with about 55 of those slots associated with the all-day kindergarten initiative; and an additional workday for teachers at a cost of $577,000.

The board's additions increased Ecker's request by nearly $2 million and included: about $1 million to hire 20 more teachers and clerical workers to help ease teacher workload; nearly $647,000 to hire more guidance counselors; $45,000 for Community Learning Centers, an after-school program; and $175,000 to bolster the district's Read 180 program, a remedial reading initiative.

School officials said it was not unusual, at this early stage, for their budget requests to exceed expected revenue.

By adding to the superintendent's budget request, Gary W. Bauer, school board president, said he and other board members were responding to community concerns.

"Sometimes we succeed and some of those things we proposed get to stay in the budget," he said.

Ecker acknowledged that having a budget request that far exceeded expected revenue meant tough choices eventually would have to be made.

"It will make our job in May harder," he said. "We have to match expenditures to revenue. ... Everything could be up for grabs."

While Ecker hopes that additional state funds will become available by then, he's not counting on it and knows it won't make up the $7 million difference.

"We could get a little more, maybe about $1 million," he said.

How much will need to be trimmed will depend largely on how much county funding the school district receives, school officials said.

In the meantime, Stone said it was important that the community help the school board make its case to the commissioners, in part by attending the county's public hearings on the budget.

Hartlove, the budget supervisor, said school officials would begin prioritizing the district's wish list, identifying those items that could be cut come May.

Everyone knows the trims are inevitable, but Stone said now was not the time to think small.

"If you don't have your hand out and don't ask for it, someone else will," he said.

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