Baltimore Co. school board might add to Berger's budget

February 22, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

The Baltimore County school board might surprise a few people tonight when it adopts an operating budget for next school year.

The board seems unlikely to cut the $572 million requested last month by Superintendent Stuart Berger, and it just might add a few million before sending it to County Executive Roger B. Hayden.

During a lengthy and freewheeling work session last week, board members showed little sentiment for reducing the spending plan, which asks for $28.5 million in salary increases and almost $7 million for 253 new teaching positions. The board will make its final decision tonight at 8 .

The Berger budget seeks $58 million more than the school system's current budget, about $46 million of it in county funds. The county funds would be an increase of 12.6 percent over the current appropriation.

"There's not a lot we can cut out," said board President Alan Leberknight, who kept a running tally of the increases as the board discussed them. The additional teaching positions and negotiated salary increases account for $45 million of the additional $58 million.

"This is not a rubber stamp," Mr. Leberknight said. "This is trying to respond to the community.

Dr. Berger's budget also asks for $5.2 million to be distributed among 50 elementary and middle schools in low-income areas to enhance education and improve students' scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests.

"Without some significant intervention, Baltimore County's scores will decrease" with the changing demographics in many neighborhoods, the superintendent said.

Board member Dunbar Brooks endorsed the expenditure but wanted to be sure that the money would be available in future budgets. "You don't want it to be a one-shot deal. We're going to have to do more; we can't do less," he said.

Overall, Mr. Leberknight said, "There was actually some discussion of addingmoney" to the superintendent's budget. Some board members discussed adding even more teachers to reduce class sizes, increasing the maintenance request and putting more money into modernizing computer payroll and personnel recordkeeping systems.

The Berger budget request asks for $1 million to begin the computer modernization, but staff members told the board they will need an additional $2 million to complete the project.

"I think you're going to get an increase in the budget," said William Lawrence, assistant superintendent for communications, planning and alternative programs. He speculated that the board might add up to $20 million, noting that its members were concerned "that they ask for what they need."

Last year the board trimmed $1.8 million from Dr. Berger's budget request before sending it to Mr. Hayden, who hacked $20 million more, including all salary increases. However, Mr. Hayden has indicated that county employees are likely to see pay raises this year -- the first in three years.

Mr. Hayden approved only 50 of the 138 new teaching positions requested last year, but Dr. Berger has managed to add 100 more teachers since last summer by taking funds from other areas of the budget that did not require an official transfer.

Those 100 positions are included in the 253 requested for next year, so that even if the budget is fully funded, there will be only 153 new teachers for an expected 3,000 to 4,000 additional students. The new teachers would not reduce class sizes, which have been growing steadily with the enrollment boom of the last few years.

"I feel very confident the county will fund the 253 new positions," Dr. Berger said perhaps a bit wistfully, at the work session.

Last year's budget process was anything but peaceful as the Hayden administration and school officials traded accusations of lack of cooperation and bad communication.

Mr. Hayden cannot add to the school budget. He can only cut it before April 15, when he must send it to the County Council for final approval by June 1.

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