School request stirs $1.6 million storm Council members clash

vote is delayed

November 03, 1993|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer

Howard County Council members appeared more willing to fight each other this week than ask for information about a school board budget request.

By law, the council must approve changes in the board's budget, but when it came time to do so Monday night, members differed over whether they had enough information.

The school board wants to spend $1.6 million in new and previously budgeted money this way: $825,000 on instruction, $574,000 on operation and maintenance of school buildings, and $223,000 for special education.

Darrel Drown, R-2nd, who was the school system's budget officer before his election to the council, told other council members that he would refuse to vote to approve the request unless he knew how the board intends to spend the money within each category.

Council Chair Shane Pendergrass, D-1st, told him that it's a little late to be asking that question. The school system needs the money now, she said. Furthermore, the council made a deal with the school board during the budget cycle that it would allow the board to use the extra revenue as it saw fit, Ms. Pendergrass said.

Mr. Drown argued that it is not good stewardship to approve money and not know what it is going for. Ms. Pendergrass countered by saying it is not good stewardship to penalize schoolchildren by delaying much needed funds.

Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, said the council should approve the request as a matter of good faith. The school board is composed of responsible, elected officials who know what the money is going for and the council doesn't need to micro-manage the request, Mr. Farragut said.

Charles C. Feaga, R-5th, sided with Mr. Drown. He wanted to wait to vote until he hears more about how the money will be spent.

After the council deadlocked on the issue, Ms. Pendergrass said, "Enough!" and slammed down her gavel. She told Mr. Farragut that they were being held hostage by the Republicans and that there was no choice but to agree to postpone a vote on the school request until December. The council voted unanimously to do just that.

Afterward, Mr. Drown expressed surprise that the school board did not send along a list of things it wants within each category.

"Typically, they send along some explanation," he said. "I'm sure there is a list out there somewhere. The whole thing will blow over in a minute when we see the dollar amounts" within each category.

"It's not taking a minute, it's taking 30 [more] days," Ms. Pendergrass said. "This was a normal 30-day process. There was opportunity for clarification at the [Oct. 18] public hearing on the school board request. If he wants to be a fiscal watchdog, it may be appropriate to look at the legislation before it comes to a vote."

David S. White, Mr. Drown's successor in the school system budget office, said in a interview yesterday that Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations, was present at the October hearing to answer questions, but none were asked. "There is nothing we couldn't or wouldn't have answered," Mr. White said.

Mr. White provided this breakdown of the spending:

A total of $515,000 of the instruction money would be used for new and replacement textbooks. The remaining instruction money would be spent this way: $100,000 for equipment for new students, $100,000 for replacement of equipment in older schools, $100,000 for replacement of equipment everywhere and $10,000 for the Black Student Achievement Program.

Two new custodial workers and a new maintenance worker would be hired with money sought in the buildings' category. The board also asked $250,000 in that category for repairs and another $100,0000 for "environmental renovation," which includes things such as asbestos removal.

The remaining category, special education, includes a request of $201,000 for nine new special-education teachers and $22,000 for special-education textbooks.

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