The Anne Arundel County school board approved a $36.6 million construction budget yesterday, but made several changes in how that money will be spent.
School planners were told to reduce a planned addition to Broadneck High School. Instead of seating 2,500 students, the addition will be built for 2,000 -- saving about $4 million for projects that had not been on Superintendent Carol S. Parham's final list.
The board also moved two projects ahead of Broadneck's on the construction priority list: renovations to five school libraries, known as media centers, costing a total of $500,000; and $550,000 for 10 prototype computer labs.
Broadneck had been sixth in priority. The top five for the fiscal year beginning next July 1 include work to meet health and safety requirements, replacement of underground storage tanks, roof replacements, systemic renovations and the purchase of 10 portable classrooms.
School board members engaged in sharp debate during the budget discussion.
When Dorothy D. Chaney -- who also is a Democratic candidate from the 7th District County Council seat -- proposed adding money to plan renovations at Davidsonville Elementary, Maureen Carr-York objected. The board voted to reject the proposal.
"I don't play parochial politics," Ms. Carr-York said. "There are schools languishing in conditions across the county that we don't have a prayer of getting [fixed]. Oh, we're going to make them happy by saying we'll put them in for planning, but what do we do next year when we can't afford to build what we planned?"
In other action, the board heard an appeal from the Xerox Corp. on the selection of a competitor -- a Dutch company, Oce -- to supply leased copiers to schools.
Xerox lawyer William H. Butterfield argued that because "some basic arithmetic calculations weren't done," the board ended up paying more for "less capability."
Mr. Butterfield argued that with premiums, the promise for refunds if fewer copies than expected were made, and a cheaper per copy fee for overruns, the Xerox contract bid was a better deal.
The bidding problems apparently began when board administrators asked the companies to bid on one or both of two scenarios: supplying 120 large copiers, or a mix of large and medium-sized copiers.
Xerox submitted one bid for the first option for $5.7 million, and did not bid on the second option because the company was told it did not have to do so. Oce bid $5.9 million in that proposal, and $4.8 million on the second option, and was awarded the contract with the second option.
Mr. Butterfield argued that Xerox was the low bidder under either scenario if the extra elements had been taken into consideration.
Joseph Foster, a board member, asked school system buyers why the calculations were not done, and the full panel directed them to respond to the Xerox protest.
The board also approved a new policy prohibiting employees from discussing with students or distributing materials to them on employee or union disputes with the board.
Members said the policy was drafted after the last round of contract renegotiations in which the school board had been trying to withhold promised longevity raises.
The school board eventually offered the raise to the four employee unions in exchange for health care package concessions.
But board members complained they had heard of teachers telling students that extracurricular activities were contingent on the raise.
John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, objected that the rule would curb employees' free speech.
"You should not adopt a policy that will not pass constitutional muster," he said. "Free speech rights can't be abridged, they're not left at the schoolhouse door."
Violators will face the prospect of verbal or written reprimand, suspension or firing.
The board also heard and denied an appeal by former Northeast High School Principal Joseph Carducci of his transfer to an administrative job at the school headquarters.
His management style was criticized last year by investigators looking into a student-teacher sex scandal.