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Dialogue on school budget helps [Editorial]

County schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie made an interesting point at a hearing with the school board and the county commissioners on Tuesday.

Guthrie, in the context of trying to secure additional funding for the school system, asked the commissioners to think of Carroll County Public Schools not only as an institution that educates but also as an economic engine for Carroll. Guthrie directed the commissioners to a study prepared by the Business Economic and Community Outreach at Salisbury University that shows that every dollar spent in school operational funds in Carroll generates $1.44 in local spending.

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It sounds logical. The quality of schools not only reflects a community's commitment to its youth, but solid schools also serve as an economic engine that drives, among other things, housing values and employment. It's a reason real estate agents often tout certain school districts when trying to market the homes they have for sale.

County commissioners, undoubtedly, could argue that as the economy softens, maintaining as high a funding level — especially as school enrollment drops — could be difficult.

And to be fair, in this budget cycle, the commissioners have allocated $169.5 million for schools, $10.5 million more than what is required by state mandates but more than $3.5 million, or 2 percent, under what Guthrie and the board requested. In the current fiscal year, the school system received $162 million from the county.

But as often happens in the push and pull between state-run school systems and the county agencies that have to fund them, the gap can be more than just financial. Sometimes it's a matter of managing expectations, something both the school officials and the commissioners could benefit from doing. That's why we're encouraged to see that the school board and commissioners agreed to work together on a five-year plan on school budgeting.

It might sound overly simplistic to suggest that greater dialogue could help. But the truth of the matter is that these two parties have a need to help each other. Even the slightest commitment to work together is a step in the right direction.

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