Gary forces schools to cut budget

April 13, 1995|By John Rivera | John Rivera,Sun Staff Writer

County Executive John G. Gary has made school board members an offer they couldn't refuse: Cut your proposed budget by $15.6 million, or I'll do it for you.

The school board had been hearing rumblings for a while, but not until late Tuesday did it receive official word that the county would be able to provide it with only $279.6 million, $7.2 million more than the schools received this year.

In response, the board drew up a "doomsday budget" that contained cuts in 50 or 60 categories, including hiring fewer teachers, eliminating eight additional administrative positions and cutting money for materials and instruction, said Gregory V. Nourse, the school system's top budget official.

The cuts would drop the total operating budget, including state money, from the school board's original $432.9 million request to $417.4. This year's budget is $409 million.

In some better news for the school system, Mr. Gary is holding out the possibility of giving the school board money to renovate and reopen Adams Park Elementary School in Annapolis if the board can show him how that would fit into the redistricting plan. The board would have to shift its budget priorities to pay for the $4.2 million construction costs.

Raymond Elwell, a county budget analyst, told the planning advisory board yesterday that Mr. Gary would place $169,000 in planning money for Adams Park Elementary into a contingency account. If he receives what he feels is a satisfactory response from the school board, he will submit a bill to the County Council to appropriate it into the capital budget.

The school board, the planning advisory board and the community near the school lobbied to reopen it as an anchor for the revitalization of the impoverished Clay Street corridor.

County financial officer John Hammond said the reduction in the school board's budget request resulted from a scarcity of funds and a ceiling on property tax revenue.

"We're looking at a revenue growth somewhere in the vicinity of 2 1/2 percent, which is approximately how much school spending will rise," Mr. Hammond said. "I think we have been constantly singing a song all along that 1996 was going to be a tight year, and, given the dynamics of the economy, it's getting tighter."

Although the school board knew the reduction was coming, the extent of it was a surprise.

"We were expecting somewhat less," said school board member Joseph Foster. "I think originally, John Gary had estimated $422 million, and when he came back with $417 million, I would say that was a major shock. I mean, this doesn't even allow us to maintain services at the current year's level."

Mr. Nourse noted that the money the schools will receive from the county equals the state's legal minimum.

"The amount of funding we're getting from the county is about $3.5 million less than we need just to maintain our baseline," he said. "We're operating with less ability to handle things than we were last year based upon this revised budget."

Included in the cuts are the Advanced School Automation Project, which went from $3.5 million to $750,000, just enough to maintain the program in the four schools in the pilot program. Mr. Foster said that was perhaps the biggest blow.

"Anne Arundel is already behind many of the other systems in the state, and to delay it further is to put our students at a disadvantage," Mr. Foster said.

"I really do commend the county executive for giving us the opportunity to work with him, even though we don't like the numbers and we don't like the result," Mr. Foster said. "But it is a good process for everyone. It allows the board to maintain the priorities and not let the county executive and the County Council set the priorities for the schools."

The school board also came up with a list of $2.16 million in cuts that it would like to see restored by the County Council if the money is available.

They include restoring the money for computers, for the purchase of an uninterruptible power source to protect the county's mainframe computer, for middle school activity buses and for two computer-related positions.

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