Baltimore County school principals have been told to give back as much as 10 percent of their budgets to ensure that the school system doesn't go into the red or dip into a $10.7 million insurance fund to which the county executive has staked a claim.
"We don't know how we are going to end the year," said the school superintendent, Stuart Berger, adding that central administration offices also will face midyear budget cuts.
"Schools are being asked to give back 10 percent or less of their operating budgets," he said. The money will be returned if the school system does not come up short in June.
"I wish this had not happened," he said. "We have not spent anything over the budget," which totals $554 million this year. But he said "we did spend on things that were not in the budget," on technologyand on hiring more teachers than he was authorized to employ.
At issue is $10.7 million in insurance premiums returned to the school system on the basis of its claims record -- money that Dr. Berger has insisted belongs to the schools and could be used if needed.
County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III maintains that the school system must have approval from the County Council to use the money and that he and the council are negotiating with the school board on the matter.
Robin Churchill, Mr. Ruppersberger's school budget analyst, said the system is projecting that it will overspend unless it cuts back now.
Some principals were unfazed by the cutbacks announced yesterday, saying they are almost a rite of spring. Others said there had been no cutbacks for a while -- and none at all since principals have been in charge of their own budgets, a management change Dr. Berger has implemented over the last few years.
"I haven't exactly figured out the impact yet," said Ken Burch, principal of the Western School of Technology and Environmental Science in Catonsville. "I'm going to miss something. The question is, what am I going to miss the least?"
Thomas Ellis, principal of the burned-out Sparks Elementary, whose students are attending Cockeysville Middle School, said he had not received official notice of the cuts late yesterday, but he had heard rumors of them. "It's not unusual to have this kind of a give-back. It's happened in the past," he said.
School-based budgets do not include salaries or benefits but do include such items as curriculum materials, supplies, postage, field trips and travel.
Mr. Ruppersberger had little to say about the school system cutbacks, but he said in a statement that he considers "daily management of operations within the given budget critical." The schools, he said, were "given a generous budget."
The requested cutback is 10 percent of a school's total budget for the year, not 10 percent of what remains this late in the school year, said system spokesman Charles Herndon. The percentage of cutbacks for administrators will be determined next week, but Dr. Berger said almost all spending would be stopped in administrative offices.
He did not say how much he expected to recover from the cuts or how much over budget the schools were running.
"I'm optimistic that we are going to give most of it back" in June, Dr. Berger said.