It's lean and mean, but it's the only school budget Superintendent Larry L. Lorton believes will pass the scrutiny of county lawmakers ina bleak fiscal year.
Lorton's recommended $358.7 million operating budget represents a 8.7 percent increase from this year's $330 million budget, up 15 percent from the 1990 proposal.
The proposal is bad news for all school system employees, since it doesn't include pay increases for any of the four groups now negotiating salaries -- teachers, principals, custodians and school bus drivers.
And salary talks with school secretaries broke off Friday after the school board turned down an offer by the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County to set aside a 5 percent pay increase request in exchange for improved working conditions and job security.
Negotiations with all employees unions should be resolved before the budget is presented to County Council on March 1.
"The county made it crystal clear, that while not saying it publicly, one could logically surmise that there is not going to be employee raises," Lorton said. "It looks bleak, and the implications are obvious. I think we are likely to see a lot of this in other counties.
"Unions tend to take bleak negotiations to impasse. I would not be surprised if that happened."
The secretaries union is already contemplating a work-to-rule job action, and talks about establishing a differential between teacher pay scales and principals' salaries already has reached an impasse. The Association of Education Leaders, the principals' union, has just begun salary talks.
Although the superintendent's recommendation was presented to school board members before Christmas, Wednesday night's board meeting at 7:30 p.m. will be the first opportunity for public discussion. Board members may change the budget request before sending it on to the County Executive Robert Neall and the County Council.
Though chances for teacher pay raises are unlikely, the budget request calls for hiring 60 new teachers to accommodate 1,500 new students expected next year because of growth inthe area and transfers from private schools.
Salaries for teachers, counselors and principals comprise 68 percent of the proposed 1991-1992 budget, totaling $230 million, compared to $216 million this year.
The long-delayed ISIS integrated computer system designed to link all county schools may be in jeopardy. The $50 million project, which school officials had hoped to have up and running in three years, may take several years to complete. Lorton is asking for $7 millionthis year, which would bring the total for the project to just $12 million.
"This (budget) is more than lean, it is very, very tight,"school budget officer Jack White said. "From all indications, it will get tighter."
The school system's capital budget request of $43 million is not much better, comprised largely of maintenance and safety projects that have been placed on the back burner in previous years. Many of those have either reached critical stages or the school system is being forced to comply with county, state and federal regulations.
Projects topping the capital budget list are replacing old boilers covered with asbestos, building ramps for the handicapped and installing sprinklers in hallways of some county schools that do not meet fire codes.
The $9 million request to continue to prepare Lindale Junior as the permanent site for North County High heads the list of school projects, followed by renovation money for Parole Elementary and additions to the Center for Applied Technology South.
In acounty where thermostats are being lowered, field trips canceled andactivity buses for high school extracurricular activities cut to meet an $8 million 1991 deficit, Lorton has few illusions about next year's spending plan. Once this year's budget is balanced, Lorton said he hopes to have about $2 million to carry over for a 1992 budget cushion.
"Philosophically, I don't believe in submitting a fat budget," Lorton said. "One's credibility is challenged by that kind of approach. The budget I submitted to the board will not do everything we want, but will sustain current programs and take on things that we havetried to get funded in the past. I think it's a fair budget that keeps us moving forward."
Hearings on the budget are scheduled for Feb. 6 and 13. The final budget will be adopted Feb. 20.