Schools Defend Budget

Board 'Provoked' By Evans Proposal

January 30, 1991|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

Anne Arundel school officials believe freshman County Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold, needs a lesson on the education budget.

Along with Councilmen Carl G. "Dutch" Holland, R-Pasadena, and George F. Bachman, D-Linthicum, Evans introduced a resolution last week urging the council to deny the school board, which is facing an $8 million deficit, any extra money this year until it finds a way to cut spending without affecting services to children.

The resolution accuses the board of spending money not approved by the council, hiring staff and increasing salaries not anticipated by the council and of incurring "excessive additional expenses."

Evans says she will support neither a supplemental appropriation nor a transfer of money from one school category to another until school officials "prove to me they're doing everything they can to cut costs. They are the ones who need to get a handle on their budget and live within their means."

School officials say Evans, Holland and Bachman are the ones who need to get a handle on the school budget.

"Miss Evans could benefit from some information," said school board President Nancy Gist.

The resolution has "provoked" many school officials, said Eugene "Jack" White, school board budget officer.

"Our concern is that Diane, while I'm sure she has all good intentions, doesn't understand the school system's budget very much. She's saying, 'The school system's budget is $330 million. Live with it.' But there'sa little more to it than that."

The County Council itself is responsible for $6 million of the school system's debt, White said, because it gave the board authority to hire more teachers but not enough money to pay them.

"It doesn't make any sense. (The former County Council) expected us to come back in the fourth quarter and get the money approved. Now there are four new players on the council, and they're saying, 'Live within your budget.' But if we hire a person at thefirst of the year, I think we kind of have an obligation to keep them," White said.

Increased fuel and heating oil costs account for most of the remaining deficit, White said. The board had asked for $8.3 million for heating oil, but the council approved $7.5 million.

"We have to pay the price for the county's cuts," White said. "They're making us look like the bad guys because we did what they wanted usto do."

School officials bristled at Evans' contention that they have been overspending for years. The board has regularly asked the council to transfer money from one school category to another at the end of the fiscal year, but it has never before asked the county for extra money, White said.

Nor at this time has the board spent any money it does not have, as the resolution states.

"So far we've spent $164 million, so I don't know what money we've spent that they didn't approve," said board member Pat Huecker. Since December, when theboard projected the $8 million shortfall, it has started cost cutting measures to avoid ending fiscal 1991 over budget. The cuts include $1 million from maintenance, $1.2 million from instructional supplies and materials, and several hundred thousand dollars for after-school activity buses.

Evans blasted the board for cutting in areas that directly affect students. Why haven't they cut anything from the administration budget, she wants to know. "They haven't cut anything. Ifind that curious."

At $12 million, the administration budget accounts for 3.7 percent of the total school budget.

"People forget administration covers personnel, the entire finance department and payroll, planning and construction, data processing, the testing department," Huecker said. "When you're only spending 3 percent on the entire thing, it's very difficult to find a cut there."

White, the schools' budget officer for more than 20 years, doesn't think it's possible to cut $8 million from a school budget without affecting services to students.

Evans said the board needs to try harder to find "creative ways" to save money.

"If she knows where to cut, we'd be glad to listen," Huecker said. "We haven't had a detailed discussion of any type (with Evans, Holland or Bachman) and certainly a detailed discussion is in order."

"It's not up to the council to manage theirmoney," Evans countered.

A public hearing and vote on the non-binding resolution is scheduled Monday before the County Council.

Whether or not the seven-member council passes the resolution, the fact that it was introduced at all sets the tone for tense budget negotiations with the school board.

"It's very touchy," said Councilwoman Maureen Lamb, D-Annapolis, a former school board member. "We've always made allowances for fourth-quarter transfers. There's no question that this is a different kind of year than before . . . but (the resolution) doesn't take into consideration the problems the board has had.

"It doesn't do any good to just pound somebody on the head."

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