Lorton Defends Increases In Budget Against Skeptics

Superintendent Accused Of Being Unrealistic

February 02, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff writer

It's been called a wish list. It's been called impractical.

Some have even suggested that the proposed $374.8 million budget submittedby county Superintendent Larry L. Lorton is nothing more than Lortonthumbing his nose at school board members who, many believe, prompted his impending departure.

However, Lorton said his budget is neither unrealistic nor a parting shot at the board.

"This is not an extravagant budget," Lortonsaid. "This is the hardest thing for people to understand. The $374 million does nothing more than sustain the level of services and programming. However, it does so without the appropriate wage and salary increases."

Lorton submitted his proposed budget to the school board Jan. 22. Within minutes, board members let Lorton know they would be looking to make substantial cuts.

The initial response from County Executive Robert R. Neall's office about the proposed budget was negative.

"Bobby feels it's an unrealistic budget, given the economy," said Neall spokeswoman Louise Hayman. "After all, the Board of Education did receive an increase in funding last year, whereas other county agencies did not."

Hayman said Neall is hoping the board will work with county government and Anne Arundel Community College to come up with cost-saving measures. The county has begun to look into sharing computer systems and ground maintenance crews, Hayman said.

The largest request in the budget is $13.8 million for "unavoidableincreases," such as bus transportation contracts and utility costs. There is also an almost $5 million increase in special education.

The special education portion of the budget had been virtually sacrosanct. Board members seldom discussed, especially in public, any cuts to special education. But when county board members had their first glimpse at the proposed budget, they made it clear that a $5 million increase for special education would come under much scrutiny.

Despite the reaction of the school board and county officials, Lorton said he presented a budget in the belief that the county wants to maintain its level of services.

"There has been much said about the $41 million increase (over the current budget)," Lorton said. "However, this $41 million is not for new programs. It is to maintain existing programs. Without the total $374 million, we lose ground.

"This board faces the necessity of reducing services and programs. The realityis that this kind of reduction is going to be felt throughout the county and in every school building," he added.

For a number of years, the county's Health Department has provided services to the schoolsystem. But it too has become a victim of state and local budget cuts, Lorton said. Because the school system is uncertain whether the Health Department will be able to continue services, Lorton said, the school budget provides for health care.

"A detached observer might say we shouldn't be providing health services," Lorton said. "But just because the Health Department no longer provides health care doesn't mean the need has disappeared. The need is still there, and somebody needs to provide the service."

When the school board decided to charge for driver's education classes and reduce the number of classroom hours in an effort to save money, hundreds of parents, students and former students loudly protested the decision. Lorton said the reduction of classroom hours for the driver's education program is just the beginning of reduced services for the county.

"Anne Arundel County is really a dinosaur with respect to how the school system handles driver's education," Lorton said. "Most school systems did away with the programs long ago.

"Most people don't understand the level of services we provide for our students. This school system has paid for its students to take the AP and SAT exams. We have more kids getting C's taking the SATs than any other county probably. Are we wrong to encourage those kids? No, but (encouraging 'C' students) could come to an end," he added.

Lorton said a reduction in the budget could affect programs like Maryland's Tomorrow, which encourages studentsto stay in school.

"There are too many people out there who believe the school system will make do with what they have, or they'll find the money," Lorton said. "This is not the case. It's serious. We will not look like the school system they know (if the budget is cut). We can't do it anymore."

SCHOOL BUDGET HIGHLIGHTS

Anne Arundel County Superintendent Larry L. Lorton has proposed a $374.8 million budget for fiscal year 1993. The proposed budget, $41 million more than the current year's amended budget, includes:

* $191.1 million for instructional salaries and wages, more than $12 million over the current year's approved budget. That includes $10.8 million for 355.5 additional positions, including 118 teachers to handle projected increases in enrollment.

* $38.3 million for special education, including 69 additional teachers, therapists and other personnel; the total request is more than $4.5 million over the current year's budget.

* $43.2 million for such fixed charges as contributions to retirement, social security and pensions. The request is more than $7.9 million over the current year's budget.

* $30.4 million for costs associatedwith the operation of school system's physical plant, more than $3.4million over the current year's budget.

* $21.3 million for pupiltransportation, more than $1.1 million over the current year's budget.

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