A budget that forgets buildings Baltimore County: School spending plan has priorities in order, except for maintenance.

February 19, 1997

THE PROPOSED Baltimore County public schools budget seriously understates the need for more money to repair and maintain decaying buildings, which is surprising considering that Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione seems to have other priorities in order.

The $630 million spending plan, which the school board must finalize by Feb. 25, is 5.3 percent larger than this year's budget, with the request for new money separated into wants and needs.

Pay raises and 165 new hires, including 135 teachers, account for most of the "needed" money, which is fine. But the high-priority portion of the budget includes only $500,000 for maintenance -- too little given the system's problems with buildings.

Last year, three elementaries were forced to close with environmental problems. Overall, the system's inventory of buildings is aging and in need of rehabilitation. Roofs are leaking, heating systems need replacement. Parents who complained about the lack of maintenance money at a hearing this month are right. The school board should listen to them.

Dr. Marchione's major priority requests require little defense. With more than 2,000 new students expected next year, class sizes will grow without additional teachers. Teachers have had two small salary increases in six years, excluding experience step increases. The starting salary for new teachers is mediocre compared to other counties, and the average salary for teachers and administrators has slipped. A school system seeking to provide a quality education has to attract quality employees. Also, the suggested 3 percent increase isn't exactly pie-in-the-sky.

As for Dr. Marchione's "wants," which include more desperately needed maintenance money, it is easy for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger and the County Council to ignore them without much risk of public displeasure.

A "want," after all, connotes something not really necessary. But in this case the priority list is not at all outlandish, and the wish list contains some important requests. Elected leaders should look at the whole package instead of taking the easy way out by summarily funding the "needs."

Pub Date: 2/19/97

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