Citizens board opposes higher school budget plea

May 16, 1993|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

Harford lawmakers should reject the school system' requests for more money until the system proves it's getting the most out of the money it receives, a citizens advisory board told the County Council.

But the council president, Jeffrey D. Wilson, rejected the council-appointed board's advice and vowed to push for more money for the school system so it can hire more teachers.

The Budget Advisory Board, whose recommendations are non-binding, advised the council at a Thursday night hearing to leave intact County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann's $162.8 million operating budget. The seven-member board scrutinizes the budget, sits in on work sessions and can ask questions of each department and agency.

Mrs. Rehrmann's budget for fiscal 1994, which begins July 1, includes $87 million for schools, an $11 million increase over current funding, but $4.4 million less than the school system requested. Parents and administrators had asked the council to restore the money the executive cut. The council, which has until May 31 to pass a county budget, can add money to the education budget, but to do so must trim the budgets of other departments and agencies.

The advisory board's chairman, Robert L. Johnson, said he's not suggesting that the school system manages money poorly but added that the board wants proof the school system is getting the most out of each dollar before it receives more.

Mr. Johnson, the director of resource management at Aberdeen Proving Ground, said the board questioned the school system's spending because the system has never conducted a management analysis to look for better ways to manage money.

"The school system is getting a lot of money -- over 50 percent of the county's budget -- and I can't imagine there isn't room for improvement," he said.

"Let them do a more effective and efficient job with what they have, and, after they have searched through every nook and cranny, then let them come back to the council and say they want more money," added Mr. Johnson, an advisory board member for about seven years.

"Can they realign workloads, consolidate some procurement functions or eliminate some of the layers of supervision now in place? Maybe they can eliminate some positions," he said.

The advisory board recommended the school system form a task force including teachers, faculty, parents and students, as well as representatives from the county administration, County Council, school board and superintendent's office. The task force would strive to come up with ways to spend money more efficiently, Mr. Johnson said.

Larry Klimovitz, county administrator, said the board's recommendation vindicated the county executive and proved her budget contained "no fat."

"I'm tickled pink. I could leap with joy," he said.

Mr. Wilson, however, disputed the need for better money management.

"I've looked long and hard at the school system's budget and I believe it to be one of the most efficient ones within the metropolitan area," he said.

Mr. Wilson and Councilwoman Theresa M. Pierno, D-District C, have made no secret of their desire to cut at least $2 million from the various county departments and agencies to give to education. Mr. Wilson has said repeatedly that the school system needs that money to hire 60 more teachers to keep class sizes down.

"Unfortunately, we're becoming an increasingly anti-child society, and this comes out whenever we want to spend more money on children," Mr. Wilson said.

Superintendent Ray R. Keech said the board's recommendation surprised him.

Noting that Harford ranks 20th among 24 Maryland subdivisions in local school spending, he said, "This county gets a tremendous punch for its buck. We spend our money very wisely. We have to."

About 125 people turned out at C. Milton Wright High for the Thursday night budget hearing, the council's last public hearing on the budget.

"I'm tired of begging for money and competing for funding," Tim White, a Havre de Grace Elementary teacher, told the council.

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