School budget deja vu in Towson

January 27, 1995

It's time for Baltimore County school officials and government leaders to commence their annual tug-of-war over the local school budget. School Superintendent Stuart Dubel has submitted to County Executive Roger Ruppersberger a proposal . .

Check that. We meant School Superintendent Bob Berger and County Executive Dutch Rasmussen.

Still not right? You'll have to excuse our confusing the players from the most recent budget tussles. The names are practically interchangeable, given how the same thing tends to happen each year. County executive says: The cupboard is bare. School superintendent says: But I need a sizable increase. Executive says: Are you deaf or what? Superintendent says: Are you blind?

And on and on, like a rerun of an "I Love Lucy" episode you've seen too many times.

For the record, Superintendent Stuart Berger has proposed a $599.2 million budget for the next fiscal year. Of that sum, $429.4 million would come from Baltimore County, a 9.2 percent increase over the current county allocation. State, federal and other sources would supply the rest.

County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger says Dr. Berger and his staff obviously weren't listening at a recent meeting when the executive warned against another fat request from school administration headquarters at Greenwood. Yet Mr. Ruppersberger is on the spot for two reasons: He made education a major issue during his campaign for the executive's office and he has stressed that he wants to keep the student-teacher ratio steady even as another 3,300 students are added to the rolls next fall. That means 260 more instructional and clerical employees must be hired, at an additional cost of roughly $15 million.

Even with the county facing a $27 million revenue shortfall over the next 18 months, the executive might find it difficult to say "no" to the money for more teachers, and to other pressing needs in Dr. Berger's proposal -- such as $2.1 million to replace 52 school buses that must be retired and $2.5 million to maintain Chapter I programs at nearly 30 schools.

No doubt the budget negotiations between the county's school system and its elected politicians will have that deja vu feeling about them. But this year there is at least one new element of suspense concerning Dutch Ruppersberger and how far he will go to back pledges he made on that most fragile of places to make them: the campaign trail.

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