Concerned school officials told the Carroll commissioners last night that the county's spending plan for fiscal 2002, which includes money for teacher pay raises, will not meet the needs of the county's 28,000 students.
"A staffing disaster is looking us in the face," said Al DeGennaro, chairman of the science department at Westminster High School. "The department has two vacancies and no applicants for the positions. I cannot fill these vacancies if all I have to offer is classrooms of 34 or 35 [students], inadequate materials and instruction, and salary increases that come at the expense of things already in short supply, such as equipment and textbooks."
The budget proposal drew comments from about 25 people, many of whom were teachers and education officials. About 100 people, including a handful of county employees, attended the meeting at Westminster High School.
The commissioners have proposed giving the Board of Education about $3 million less than it requested to cover the day-to-day cost of running Carroll's 38 schools in fiscal 2002, which begins July 1.
School officials asked for $195.3 million, about $7.6 million more than they had expected to receive, to fund school employee pay raises, buy textbooks and hire 16 teachers and other staff. Faced with too few dollars and too many requests, the commissioners were able to fund only the pay raises, causing several residents to voice concerns about crowded classrooms, inadequate materials and school safety.
After several closed discussions, the commissioners added $2.5 million to the school board's operating budget, bringing the total county appropriation to $105.4 million.
The commissioners directed the school board to use the additional money to meet the "governor's challenge," and ordered the panel to trim $3 million from its budget. This is the second consecutive year that Gov. Parris N. Glendening has offered to increase teacher salaries by 1 percent in school systems that raise teacher pay by 4 percent.
Under the commissioners' proposed spending plan, the Carroll school system would receive $192.3 million in county, state and federal aid. The 295-page document also includes slight spending increases - on average, 5 percent - for law enforcement, substance abuse treatment and farmland preservation.
More than 100 members of the local teachers union rallied outside the high school to show their support for the school system's budget request.
The proposed budget for the next fiscal year would maintain the tax rate of $1.048 per $100 of assessed value, meaning the annual tax on the average Carroll home valued at slightly less than $152,000 would be about $1,593.
Under the proposed spending plan, the county operating budget - which covers the day-to-day cost of running county government - would rise from $205.2 million this year to $225.3 million. The capital budget - which pays for construction projects - would drop from $66.2 million this year to about $42.9 million.
The proposed budget would allocate more than $5.1 million for the firemen's association, up from about $4.9 million this year. About a dozen volunteer firefighters attended yesterday's hearing to ask the commissioners to give the association an additional $383,000 to pay fire engine drivers.
The commissioners are expected to adopt a budget May 24. Copies of the proposal are available at library branches and the county budget office, 225 N. Center St., Westminster.