Carroll board OKs $323 million school budget

Plan is 5% higher than last year's, yet includes cuts necessitated by sluggish economy

May 23, 2008|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,Sun Reporter

Working to balance priorities in difficult economic times, the Carroll County school board yesterday approved an operating budget of about $323 million for the 2009 fiscal year.

The plan is about $15 million more than the current budget - an increase of slightly more than 5 percent.

It includes more than 40 new positions - such as those for Ebb Valley Elementary School, scheduled to open this fall - and additional spending for utilities and worker benefits.

"There were a lot of needy things that we could not include," Superintendent Charles I. Ecker told board members during yesterday's special afternoon session.

Recently appointed member Virginia Harrison was not present for the 4-0 vote approving the plan.

Rising fuel costs presented another challenge, with more than $390,000 added in the latest version of the budget.

"The fuel is going out of sight," Ecker said. The average cost per gallon has jumped nearly 100 percent since the 2007 fiscal year, said Doug Gross, the school system's supervisor of plant operations.

The budget also includes about $4.3 million in negotiated step and cost-of-living increases.

Depending on the bargaining group, some employees will receive a 2 percent increase, while others will receive 1 percent and a midyear step increase, said Andrew Sexton, the budget supervisor.

Recognizing the tight financial situation, school officials said staff cut an additional $1 million from the 2007-2008 budget.

Reductions were made in funds for food, travel, technology services and transportation, among other areas, said Stephen Guthrie and Steve Johnson, assistant superintendents of administration and instruction, respectively.

"We also know that these are tight times, and so we have offered those up," Johnson said.

The plan adopted yesterday was down from the nearly $330 million proposal that the board approved in February.

At that time, the budget included more than 130 new positions.

Elementary and middle-school data clerks, as well as several high school teacher positions added to help reduce class sizes, were among the items removed. The after-school Community Learning Centers at eight schools also were eliminated.

Board members expressed regret at cutting the programs, which several parents and students had advocated for in an earlier meeting.

"That was a very heart-wrenching decision that we all had to make," President Cynthia L. Foley said.

Member Patricia Gadberry said she "fully supported" the centers, and was sad to see them go.

"I would hope that, in future times, if we can support those or similar programs, [then] we would," Gadberry said.

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