Bill would ease burden state-mandated programs impose on school boards


The General Assembly should limit expensive mandates imposed on county school boards by the state Board of Education, state Sen. Charles H. Smelser says.

The District 4 Democrat has introduced a bill that would require the state to pay for any mandate that would cost a county more than $250,000. Sen. Larry E. Haines, a District 5 Republican, is one of six co-sponsors of Senate Bill 242.

State education officials continually develop programs -- many of them costly -- that county school boards are required to follow, Mr. Smelser said.

An example is a state program introduced last year that requires students to perform community service, he said. Many county boards opposed the plan, but they had no recourse, he said.

"Some control is needed in this area because it [education] is the largest part of our budget," he said.

Carroll is spending 53 percent of its $130 million operating budget on education in the current fiscal year.

"To be responsive budget-wise, we need to have more input," said Mr. Smelser, a member of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. "Appointed people are passing regulations with no regard to the cost."

The bill, introduced two weeks ago, would permit the General Assembly to waive the requirement that the state pay for a specific mandate.

Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr., D-Prince George's, said he had not read Mr. Smelser's bill and would have to talk with his colleague before forming an opinion on it.

The measure might be "superfluous," given the General Assembly's policy this year not to adopt any new unfunded mandates, he said. Legislators are reviewing all state mandates imposed on counties, he said.

But Mr. Miller said he would consider Mr. Smelser's bill and added, "He has a very conservative philosophy. He usually thinks out his proposals for a long time before he introduces them."

Mr. Haines said the bill would give parents a greater voice in

state mandates. Many parents say they do not have access to the state Board of Education but can talk easily with their legislators, he said.

The bill includes a monetary limit because "we didn't totally want to limit every program or every mandate," Mr. Haines said.

Carroll Commissioners Donald I. Dell and Elmer C. Lippy said they had not read the bill.

"I guess it's in line with this general war we're waging on unfunded mandates," Mr. Lippy said. "It sounds like the thing makes sense."

Mr. Dell said Mr. Smelser's bill sounded fair but that he would recommend that mandates costing any amount be paid for by the state.

Carroll commissioners and county officials around the state have complained to legislators that counties cannot pay for any more state mandates.

In his State of the State address, Gov. William Donald Schaefer DTC promised not to enact any more, saying, "I have pledged, and will continue to pledge, no new mandates without funding. We've heard from local governments, and they need help."

The governor also has promised to give the counties more money to pay for state mandates if the 25-cent-a-pack cigarette tax passes.

Of the $70 million a year the tax is expected to raise, the governor has said he would give $25 million to the counties for education, health and other mandates.

Carroll County would receive almost $900,000.

Bonnie A. Kirkland, deputy director of committee staffing and legal review for the Department of Legislative Reference, who reviews bills with the governor, said she had not spoken to Mr. Schaefer about Mr. Smelser's measure, Senate Bill 242.

She said she had not studied the bill but that she expected the state Board of Education to have concerns about it.

Ronald Peiffer, a spokesman for the state Board of Education, said the board has not discussed whether to take any action on the measure.

William Hyde, assistant superintendent of administration for the Carroll school board, said he also had not read Mr. Smelser's bill.

State mandates cover a variety of areas besides education, including worker safety, storm-water management and environmental issues, he said. The federal government also imposes mandates, Mr. Hyde said.

He said he did not know how much Carroll spends on state mandates.

Carroll school board member Joseph D. Mish Jr. said he had not read Mr. Smelser's bill but that it sounded like a good idea.

"My gut-level reaction is that I like the unfunded mandate part of it, but I'm real suspicious when the General Assembly gets involved in education. We need to keep politics out of education," he said.

The bill will have a hearing before the Senate Economic and Environmental Affairs Committee at 1 p.m. Friday.

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