Bill requiring reports on school funds OK'd Measure still needs governor's signature before becoming law

April 05, 1996|By Scott Wilson | Scott Wilson,SUN STAFF

The Senate passed a bill yesterday that would require Anne Arundel's school board to present regular, detailed financial reports to the County Council starting this fall.

The measure, which only needs the governor's signature to become law, is yet another pressure point between school board members and County Executive John G. Gary, who have been locked in the political equivalent of a bar fight throughout the three-month General Assembly session.

It represents either a legislative slap in the face to board members or a nod to fiscal accountability, depending upon one's view. The measure, which applies only to Anne Arundel County, passed unanimously as part of a legislative package.

"The board and the administration should look at this as a step toward the kind of fiscal discipline that the public is asking for," said Del. John R. Leopold, a Pasadena Republican and one of the bill's sponsors.

But school board President Joseph H. Foster called it "kind of a useless bill."

"We already report to them," he said. "It really doesn't add anything."

The school board voluntarily gives a spending report to the council in December. The new bill would require reports at the beginning of March and November, with spending reviews by category, more detailed than now required.

While the bill calls for the reports to be presented to the council, Mr. Gary has said he also will receive copies and audit the school board if the money is not being spent as allocated. Legislators have questioned whether the bill would give him that power.

"This just gives us an additional tool regarding school board accountability," said Council Chairwoman Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Republican. "It gives us the opportunity to look at this [school spending] more closely."

The bill is the less controversial of two measures Mr. Gary has pushed this legislative session to crack down on school spending, which accounts for 57 percent of Anne Arundel's $733 million budget.

The second bill, which would give Mr. Gary the power to appoint board members, is being considered by the county's Senate delegation and may not emerge before the session's Monday finale.

Mr. Gary testified in favor of the financial-reporting bill last month before the county's House delegation, which endorsed the measure unanimously. The Senate delegation approved the bill 4-1, with Sen. Philip C. Jimeno opposing it.

Mr. Jimeno, a Brooklyn Park Democrat who has fought Mr. Gary's schools legislation, said he would have voted against the measure had it not been included in a package that passed on a single vote.

"I don't think it's necessary," Mr. Jimeno said. "At a time when we're trying to encourage communication between the board and the administration, I think this just shows us micromanaging."

Mr. Leopold, who also sponsored the board-appointment legislation on Mr. Gary's behalf, acknowledged that the financial-reporting bill was less politically charged. To be on the safe side, however, he recruited Del. Virginia P. Clagett, a West River Democrat, to co-sponsor the bill.

"This was a walk in the park compared to the appointment bill," he said.

Pub Date: 4/05/96

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