Calvert County public school administrators slashed this year's budget for textbooks, instructional supplies and special education by more than $750,000 to fund the recently negotiated salary increase for teachers and support staff members.
The revised budget for the current fiscal year was unanimously approved by the county commissioners Tuesday, but not before some raised concerns about the cuts.
"Either we had more money in the budget for books than we needed, or we're not going to get those textbooks," said Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large). "I'd like to know how it is that they no longer need to buy $500,000 worth of textbooks."
Although the school system's fiscal year began July 1, approval of the budget was delayed until the Board of Education ended its contract dispute with the unions representing teachers and support staff members.
To help fund the salary increases, the school system cut $100,000 in salaries and wages for special education and $670,000 for textbooks and instructional supplies.
Superintendent J. Kenneth Horsmon said the school system was able to use surplus funds from last year and other cost-saving measures to prevent a decrease in services.
"We have not heard from a single one of our parents about kids not having a textbook," he said. "It's not something we would like to neglect. We have not shortchanged the schools or any of our students."
School administrators realized that salary increases would strain this year's budget, so they began purchasing textbooks last spring, said Gordon L. Smith, the school system's director of finance.
Allocations made to the schools for textbooks and instructional supplies were cut by $240,000, but Smith said that reduction does not necessarily mean that principals would spend less on textbooks.
"Even though I've taken it from their textbook account, they have the latitude to still spend the monies that they have how they want," he said. "We give them an allocation, and they choose how to spend it."
The decreased budget for special education teachers did not indicate a reduction in staff members, Smith said. He attributed the reduction to savings from high staff turnover this summer, when several retiring teachers were replaced by staff members with lower starting salaries.
County Commissioner Wilson H. Parran (D-At Large) expressed concern that such downward budget revisions could become a recurring problem. "What's the long-term implications?" he asked.
Smith said cuts would not necessarily repeat in the future, but he could not guarantee that the decreases were a one-time event.
"I don't know if I can make that blanket statement up front because every year is different," he said.
Also last week, Horsmon proposed a tentative budget for fiscal 2006 that would increase school spending by $11.3 million, or 8 percent. Most of that would pay for the salary increases and a state-mandated move to all-day kindergarten. Spending totals in the current budget represented a 7 percent increase over the previous year's totals.
Horsmon will present his final budget proposal to the Board of Education at a public hearing at 7 p.m. Jan. 27 at Calvert High School. The school board must then consider his proposal and submit a final budget request to the county commissioners by March 1.
The county commissioners said they need to review the school board's request over the next few months before committing funding. But commissioners President David F. Hale (R-Owings) said he did not see any major problems with the initial proposal.
"I think it's pretty close," he said.