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Fat, Easy Target? Look Again


As the largest component of Carroll County's budget, the school system makes a tempting target. Cutting the Board of Education's request must be done carefully, however.

For next year, the department is requesting $141 million, an 8 percent increase over this school year. The request seems reasonable considering the influx of additional students, the desire to improve performance and generally efficient spending by the department in the past.

Carroll's school system has not been extravagant to date. Even though the system's per pupil spending is about $600 less than the state average of about $5,900, its results rank among the best in Maryland. Last year, Carroll ranked 17th of the 24 Maryland jurisdictions in per pupil spending. Yet, on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, Carroll students ranked second -- just behind Howard, whose per pupil expenditure is almost $1,000 greater. Salaries for teachers and administrators were also below the state average, according to the most recent state figures.

Growth in enrollment is the primary dynamic propelling the budget. An additional 728 pupils will enter the system next year. Not only must the system employ more teachers, it will have to buy more books, desks and other materials to accommodate these children. Add to those amounts the cost of construction or renting portable classrooms, and the sums quickly reach millions.

To make matters worse, support for education seems to be weakening in Washington. If citizens want to maintain a high level of student performance, the county contribution to education must increase.

Some residents who no longer have children in the school system, or never did, have complained loudly about the size of the education budget and want it reduced. First, they should consider the role of the public schools in their lives.

Even though these people may not reap direct benefits from county schools, an excellent system enhances the community. That has a bearing on the value of their property, on future rates of crime and joblessness, on the general quality of life here.

The consequences of drastic reductions in education spending would not be felt solely by Carroll's 24,000 public school children. All would suffer if the county's education performance falters.

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