School board members to get cost data on issues Paperwork will include fiscal impact information

August 06, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

For the first time, Anne Arundel County school board members will know immediately if policies and programs they are considering cost money.

A fiscal impact line has been added to the cover sheets that accompany the paperwork on items coming up at school board meetings. Tomorrow's meeting is the first at which the fiscal comment will be routinely listed.

School board members sought the change, said Kenneth Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services. If there is a fiscal impact, basic supporting information is among documents on the policy or project.

"This is to be used when the staff has reason to believe the item has additional costs associated with it," Lawson said.

The County Council has a fiscal note attached to every bill on which it votes. If the administration is seeking changes by the council, the administration has the policy or program reviewed by the budget office.

Some school boards in Maryland attach dollar figures to certain proposals; with others, it is part of the discussion.

"I think in any decision we make, we have to think about how much something costs. In tight economic times, we have to know that information," board member Michael J. McNelly of Dunkirk said yesterday.

There have been several recent instances in which cost was a deciding factor for board members. In recent months, some board members have asked for cost information as policies and programs have been proposed.

Last month, McNelly was the first of several board members to say he lacked enough supporting financial information to decide whether to renovate and expand Fort Smallwood Elementary School or build a new school.

School officials estimated that it would cost $7.4 million to upgrade the county's most crowded elementary school. The cost estimate on a new school was $11.7 million.

The board had planned to upgrade the old school, but then County Executive John G. Gary said he wanted a new one. Gary has since backed off, saying he probably will support the decision the board makes tomorrow. Most members are leaning toward their original plan to renovate and expand the existing building.

The first time the cost issue surfaced this year was in the spring, in connection with efforts to redistrict Pasadena schools to alleviate crowding at George Fox Middle School. Four plans surfaced, all involving sending some Fox students to Chesapeake Bay Middle School, which had space.

But school officials were not asked at the outset to evaluate the financial impact of every option. It turned out that the option most favored by parents was the most costly.

The change in fiscal policy comes as Gary wages a war with the school board over controlling costs, especially for construction.

Lisa Ritter, spokeswoman for Gary, said adding the fiscal information up front "is a frugal thing to do."

Tomorrow's meeting will be at 10: 30 a.m. at the Board of Education headquarters on Riva Road in Annapolis.

Pub Date: 8/06/96

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