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Sound fiscal planning

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Budget cutting for Carroll County Public Schools may feel painful, but the hurt can't go nearly as deep as other divisions in the state and even in the Twin County area.

It's probably not too much of a stretch to call Carroll schools a model of fiscal responsibility for anticipating from a long way off the budget crisis that has caught so many divisions off guard this year.

The proposed 2010-2011 schools budget marks the third year Carroll administrators have decided not to hire new employees to fill positions that have recently become vacant.

In total, that number will rise to 40 positions not refilled over three budget years.

That might sound like a lot of vacancies, until you realize that Grayson schools slashed its personnel rolls by 56 all of the sudden, telling 19 teachers that they are out of a job. That's in addition to a 6 percent across-the-board pay cut.

Carroll schools official stress that no one has been laid off.

They have taken pains to find places to scrimp to come up with savings ideas: reducing supplements for academics, athletics and extracurricular activities; reducing days and hours for some employees, namely nursing staff and at-risk four-year-old program aides; consolidating summer school; reducing materials, purchased services, travel and equipment line items and more.

Several one-time revenue sources will help fill the gap.

Carroll schools could have easily spent all its stimulus funds the first year they had it, but they were thrifty with those monies from the state and federal governments.

Many school systems splurged with their stimulus in the current school year, but Carroll held half in reserve because they had a feeling that the economic conditions would continue to pose challenges.

They were right.

Half of the stimulus money, about $780,000 in Carroll's case, makes a big difference when trying to account for an expected reduction in state funding of somewhere between $3.3 and $3.9 million.

Carroll schools have bent under the weight but have not broken, as School Board Member Harold Golding said at a recent meeting.

"When you start losing people you break the system, but right now we're bending as far as we can bend," he said, about the seriousness of the budget problems and the continuing challenges the school system faces.

Carroll educators have kept their heads throughout this crisis.

The careful planning has allowed Carroll schools to make more surgical budget cuts instead of wildly chopping down to the bone, as some others have had to do.