Baltimore County's school budget 'Musts' and 'wants': Marchione's prioritizing, pricing will aid decision-making process.

January 26, 1996

THE RECORD Baltimore County school budget of $623 million proposed by Superintendent Anthony Marchione may appear unrealistic at first glance, but there is a strong grasp on practicality and politics in his method.

The total cost of his budget to the county school board represents an 8.4 percent increase over current spending (up $48 million), which is twice the rate of increase proposed in other Baltimore metro area school systems. It even includes raises and position upgrades for teachers, always a political budget flash point.

What makes this 1996-97 budget remarkably responsible, however, is the interim superintendent's attempt to prioritize and price-tag each item of the requested increase.

Dr. Marchione, who may not be appointed to implement this budget plan, divides the wish list into "must" and "want" categories, allowing the school board and, more importantly, the county's elected officials, to make informed choices and cuts. With only the first tier, the requested increase is but 4 percent.

Furthermore, he's listened carefully to the county executive and the council members about what will be acceptable for discussion. "They wisely submitted a budget that came within the mark," a top aide to County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, says in praise.

One second-tier item, hiring 60 experienced teachers to mentor novice instructors, is in Mr. Ruppersberger's legislative request for full state funding. The program can be phased in, if money is short, Dr. Marchione adds.

The proposed budget increase includes more teachers to handle an additional 3,000 pupils this fall, added staff to reduce class sizes and restore school-based instructional positions, and needed textbooks and materials that were cut from previous budgets.

Dr. Marchione also would cut administrative positions, instead of wrangling with the council about upper-level staffing. And there's no attempt to hide and then transfer school funds, as his predecessor was accused of doing.

It's a certainty that the final school budget will be reduced, probably significantly, from the superintendent's proposal. But he has done the system and the county a favor by identifying and pricing specific school needs, and by assigning priorities to them.

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