The Carroll County Board of Education criticized the county commissioners last night for reducing without notice the budget for the high school under construction outside Westminster by $300,000.
Board members and administrators charged that the reduction was illegal and a breach of an agreement between the two boards to pay a construction liaison directly from county coffers rather than from the $35.4 million Winters Mill High School budget. They also complained that this was the second time money had been deducted without their knowledge or consent from a fund allocated to a particular school construction project.
"In my opinion, the commissioners are acting in bad faith," said board member C. Scott Stone, who called the action "unconscionable" at last night's school board meeting.
The spat was the latest in a series of disagreements between the school board and county government over the liaison post, which the commissioners created to serve as the county's "eyes and ears" on school building projects after several projects finished over budget or were mired in legal disputes.
In hammering out the liaison's job description last spring, the two boards sparred over its scope, who would be eligible to fill it and how the position would be funded - a consideration that the county commissioners deemed immaterial because both budgets are derived from tax dollars collected by the county.
The school board approved the liaison position in June with the provision that the cost not be paid from school construction funds. But in July, the county subtracted $300,000 from the Winters Mill High budget to pay for the liaison.
Stone further said he was disturbed that the commissioners have a "$300,000 slush fund" - a charge that county budget bureau chief Ted Zaleski disputed.
"I object to the use of the term 'slush fund,'" Zaleski said, characterizing the dollar amount as "a clearly identified use of funds for a construction liaison."
He said he thought the two boards had agreed to pay for the liaison post from the high school's budget with the understanding that the county would replenish the construction fund if the cost of the liaison created a shortfall. The school board, however, deleted that clause when it approved the agreement with the county.
Zaleski said that the lack of notification was a "freak chance" and that it is "not a practice of ours to go into Board of Education projects and just remove money without telling anyone."
Vernon F. Smith Jr., the school system's assistant superintendent for administration, agreed that it was not a routine occurrence but said it was important to alert the commissioners to the board's displeasure.
"It was just a matter of flagging it," he said in an interview after the meeting. "Could they just reach in and take money for teachers' salaries or textbooks? No. The law doesn't allow that."