Putting the Money Where Our Mission Is

January 15, 1995|By CAROL PARHAM

I welcome this opportunity to share with the community the highlights of my proposed fiscal year '96 operating budget for the public schools. Having shared my recommendations with Board of Education members, I also want to communicate directly with the citizens of our county. Budget development is one of the most critical tasks of the superintendent, and its success depends upon a careful, detailed, thoughtful and deliberative approach.

About 55 percent of Anne Arundel County's budget is dedicated to educational spending. It is my obligation as superintendent of schools to maximize available resources, both personnel and materials, for students and teachers.

My proposed $437.7 million operating budget results from a close examination of how each and every dollar spent will benefit children. My primary considerations are the provision of quality learning and teaching experiences for students and for teachers. Additionally, my focus is on spending money in a manner which will have direct positive results in each classroom across the county. Having completed the difficult process of framing this budget, I remain resolute in my belief that we are here for children. That is the message conveyed by my proposed budget. . . .

These are my priorities as reflected in my proposed budget:

First, and most importantly, I am committed to putting money back into the classroom. My budget request includes an additional $2.4 million, an increase of 66 percent, to be used for textbooks and other materials of instruction for our schools. Of that $2.4 million, approximately $1.1 million has been added to the materials of instruction category as a direct result of cuts in administrative positions, an action which reflects my dedication to spending money appropriately as well as prudently. . . .

My second priority addresses needs related to projected growth and maintenance of the current pupil/teacher ratio. Our school system continues to grow, with nearly 71,000 students now attending and an additional 2,000 projected for next year. Increasing enrollments also require budgeting for additional school-based administrators, guidance counselors and health personnel to address the corresponding out-of-classroom, child-focused needs which accompany growth.

My third priority relates to the critical issues of safety and discipline in our schools. . . . We take a hard line against violence and drugs or weapons in our schools. Several critical staff positions were added last year to work specifically in the areas of safety and discipline, and in the future, we will continue to require funding for programs and personnel in these areas.

My fourth priority is instructional technology. ASAP, our Advanced School Automation Project, is the linchpin of our technology initiative. A four-school pilot project is underway as part of the ASAP project, and money is included in my recommended budget to bring all high schools into the project during FY 96. This is an ambitious plan. However, I believe the urgent need to upgrade technology in our schools demands immediate attention on my part and on the part of the public. . . .

My recent efforts at budget-building further reinforced my belief that this budget could not and would not be taken seriously if I did not address some of the other hard issues facing the school system. Having studied and recommended a reorganization in April 1994, I believe it critical that my budget also address issues related to restructuring -- issues raised in a report completed by three distinguished citizens of our county and recently transmitted to Board of Education members. The report resulted from my request for an impartial evaluation of the school system's current organization and a critical review of my suggested restructuring.

The citizens committee report has provided me and my staff with a number of recommendations related to organization, function and focus. It validates many of the organizational concepts my staff and I have developed over the last 12 months. . . . I accept the report of the committee and recognize the validity of its findings. However, I believe that the original proposed reorganization can be further refined. The structure I recommend will now include only two assistant superintendents, rather than the three suggested by the citizens' report.

Additionally, it will include 21 fewer central office administrative positions. My budget reflects these changes and indeed goes beyond the proposals included in the committee's report. These actions will generate approximately $1.1 million through reductions in the salary and fringe benefit categories of the school system's administrative budget, and this year's recommended administration budget will show a decrease of 8.1 percent from last year's. This money will be redirected exclusively to the purchase of textbooks and materials of instruction.

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