More than 300 teachers could find themselves without jobs if the county goes along with a recommendation to cut school spending by more than $20 million.
The county's Spending Affordability Committee, anadvisory group appointed by the county executive, has suggested thatnext year's school system budget be $342 million, $23.8 million lessthan the request the school board submitted to County Executive Robert R. Neall last month. And school officials are preparing for the worst.
"I'm sorry to bring you this news, but it's not a very bright figure," acting Superintendent C. Berry Carter II said at Monday night'sschool board meeting. "I met with unions (Monday). I've been to morejoyous meetings at a wake."
Board President Jo Ann Tollenger saidschool officials have begun planning their worse-case scenario, a scenario that includes larger class sizes and reduced instructional programs in addition to layoffs.
The school system had been waiting to see if there would be any help coming from the General Assembly, but with no new state money likely, school administrators are already aweek behind in making a staffing recommendation for the school budget year that begins July 1.
Thomas J. Paolino, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said his members are frustrated.
"We've been told, from the president on down, that educationis a priority, until it comes time to fund," Paolino said. "Then, it's only lip service.
"There isn't that much fat in the budget. We have eliminated the fat. We're down to the bones," Paolino added.
When the board submitted its budget of $365.8 million last month, Neall quickly angered school officials by characterizing the spending plan as "unrealistic." In fact, school officials have argued, the proposed budget request will do nothing more than maintain the level of services the school system currently provides.
In order to operate under a $342 million budget, school board members say they would have to:
* Leave 14.5 positions vacant in the central administration office.
* Increase average class size by one student at all levels.
* Eliminate 24 custodial positions.
* Consolidate bus routes.
* Eliminate high school activity buses and summer school transportation.
* Eliminate all new positions and 16 existing teaching positions in special education.
Along with the possible cuts in programs and staffing, the school system will have to absorb an additional 2,600 students next year, said Assistant Superintendent for Instruction Cheryl Wilhoyte.
If the school system adds one student to every class in every grade, $3 million could be saved, with the lost of 110teachers. If class sizes are increased by two or three students, which the board considers a worst-case scenario, more than 300 teachers could face layoffs.
The student-teacher ratio in the county is now25:1, but board members warned that there are many classes already with 30 or more students.
"I hope people don't buy into (the idea that) one or two more kids isn't going to hurt," said board member Vincent O. Leggett.
In addition, school officials are projecting the system will be unable to meet the new standards set by the Maryland School Performance Program.
Board member Thomas Twombly called for a moratorium on residential construction in the county to help slow increases in enrollment. Twombly said there should be no building permits issued for two years in areas where the schools are at 110 percent of capacity.
Twombly said Anne Arundel is just a step behind Baltimore County, where a number of schools are crowded. Despite the crowding in Baltimore County schools, officials there are considering a proposal to slash two-thirds of the bond money the school system wants for capital projects. Twombly said he does not want to see Anne Arundel forced into a similar dilemma.