School costs approved

$286 million budget has few changes from Feb. proposal


Teacher pay raises, full-day kindergarten and additional data clerks to help with mounting paperwork demands survived an estimated $5 million cut in the Carroll County school system's operating budget.

With a few relatively minor changes, school board members last week approved a $286 million operating budget for the 2007 fiscal year, which begins July 1.

School officials had sought an additional $5 million from the county commissioners to fund everything that was in the district's operating budget proposed in February, said Christopher Hartlove, the system's budget supervisor.

"I think the desire [from the county commissioners] to do it was there, but they decided that it wasn't fiscally sound," Hartlove said.

To balance the budget with the anticipated funding from county, state and federal sources, Superintendent Charles I. Ecker recommended several cuts from his original proposal.

His suggested trims included 20 data clerk positions at the elementary and middle school levels, guidance counselors for three elementary schools, and fewer new assistant principal positions for the middle schools.

Also, instead of hiring 22 additional special-education resource teachers, Ecker recommended one special-education reading intervention teacher and six special-education childhood teachers - a suggestion that board members accepted.

But the panel disagreed with Ecker's recommendation to cut the number of additional behavior specialists for middle schools from two to one, which would save about $58,000.

"I really wanted to see two positions there," board member Cynthia L. Foley said. She added that she felt strongly about restoring the additional position after having heard pleas from parents and educators about the need for the specialists.

The board voted for two behavioral specialist positions in the budget.

The panel also disagreed with Ecker's proposal to convert 13 hourly community learning center coordinators to salaried employees, which would have cost $244,000.

Instead, board members voted to use the $244,000 to fund the additional behavioral specialist and use the balance - about $186,000 - to fund as many data clerks as possible at the elementary and middle schools.

"Converting the community learning center coordinators to salary has been in the budget for a couple years now," Hartlove said. "It's one of those things that doesn't rise to the priority. It's something that would be nice to do, but board members decided there were more pressing needs."

Board President Thomas G. Hiltz said it would be up to Ecker where to assign the data clerks.

"It would be based on his judgment of where they would be best used," Hiltz said.

A number of items that Ecker had added to his proposed budget since February were kept in the adopted spending plan, including:

A half-time guidance counselor for North Carroll Middle to maintain recommended student-to-staff ratios, a cost of $34,000.

Two career connections coordinators - one each at Francis Scott Key High in Union Bridge and Liberty High in Eldersburg - a cost of nearly $84,000.

A summer program for low-achieving fifth-graders, a cost of $60,000.

Seven positions originally slated as guidance counselors were changed to intervention positions to help students prepare for the state's high school assessments. Nearly $407,000 is budgeted for these positions.

A new high school course for students interested in the teaching profession remained, a cost of about $69,000 for two half-time teachers.

The school board's approved spending is subject to "official adoption" in the county commissioners' overall budget, a process that is usually completed by June 30.

Ecker said he doesn't expect any additional changes, but the commissioners could make alterations to the school system's final plan.

"They've given us our final amount [from the county's budget for schools], and we've made changes based on that," Ecker said.

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