THE CARROLL COUNTY Board of Education made a wise tactical decision in approving its budget for next year. It decided to preserve popular education programs and target prospective employee raises for reduction. With that kind of trade-off, it is hardly surprising the board received a standing ovation at its last meeting.
The board was in a tough position. The county commissioners had vowed to allot education only the minimum required by state law -- basically the same per-pupil spending as this year multiplied by the number of anticipated students.
School administrators and the board had assembled a $143.4 million budget that exceeded the commissioners' limit by about $3.4 million. Faced with the prospect of having to eliminate important programs such as elementary school instrumental music, gifted and talented instruction or adult education, the board decided that its employees would have to be the sacrificial lambs.
Board members agreed to drop a 3 percent raise it had negotiated with the teachers. By eliminating the $2.5 million allocated for the raise and pushing back other expenses due to construction delays at the new Oklahoma Road Middle School, the board was able to submit a budget that satisfied the commissioners' pre-imposed limit.
For their part, the teachers agreed to give up their raises rather than have larger class sizes or lose popular programs. Teachers often bear the brunt of animus toward escalating education expenses. Thus, they deserve much credit for not engaging in a fruitless battle in a this tight budget year. By forfeiting a negotiated raise, they can point to their selfless sacrifice and have an upper-hand in next year's negotiations.
In spite of an effort by county executives and others in Annapolis to undercut the state law that requires a "maintenance of effort" for education spending, the commissioners will be under tremendous pressure to do more than the minimum next year. Parents will mobilize again, as they did this month, to oppose efforts to cut popular programs. Next time around, however, they and the teachers will be allies, and balancing the education budget won't be so easy.