School board approves budget $454.8 million plan is a 7.1% increase

February 21, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF Contributing writer Kristina M. Schurr contributed to this article.

The Anne Arundel County school board has set the ground for a funding battle between school advocates and county government officials with its approval early yesterday of a $454.8 million operating budget.

Its idea of the budget needed for 1997-1998 would require $15 million more than the $284.6 million the county currently spends on school operations. The chances of that happening? "Slim. Very slim," according to county budget analyst Raymond Elwell.

School officials say they need the 7.1 percent overall increase over last year's $424.5 million budget to make up for two lean years that left parents complaining about everything from equipment shortages to classes swelling to more than 30 children. In 1995-1996, the school system was allowed a budget increase of just 2 percent; this year, the increase was only 1.7 percent.

All school year, at board meetings, community gatherings and superintendent's forums, school board members and Superintendent Carol S. Parham have been redirecting parental

anger toward elected officials who hold the school system's purse strings.

County officials figure their state-ordered share of the school budget will increase by $3.5 million to $4 million. Beyond that increase, which they have no choice about, more money for schools is iffy. Expecting a total revenue increase of about $20 million, county officials are reluctant to give nearly all of the extra to one department -- schools.

"Ten million dollars would be very optimistic, just knowing the things the county has to do out of the $20 million," Elwell said.

Board President Joseph H. Foster said the budget restraints were making it difficult to address academic goals for county students. He and other board members see their budget as the bottom line needed to help the most students.

The board added nearly $2 million to the budget proposal brought to them by Parham.

Roughly $300 million of the budget would go to salaries and wages, an increase of about $17 million over this year. The board earmarked $7.6 million of that for 250 new positions. Longevity and step increases as well as a $10-a-day raise for substitute teachers who hold a college degree account for another $2 million.

While Parham sought 49 classroom teachers for the expected increase of 1,000 new students, the board added 10 to that to shrink the size of some elementary school classes.

The board increased by $1.5 million Parham's recommended $9.1 million for textbooks and classroom supplies. A recent textbook audit confirmed the shortage that parents have complained about. Board members added $452,000 for redistricting and negotiated items.

To pay for some of changes, the board cut seven of the 247 new jobs Parham sought. The newly opened alternative school for disruptive teen-agers took the brunt of the hit, with the board turning down its request for an assistant principal, a secretary and two teacher assistants.

The board upheld Parham's bid for two teachers to work with sixth-graders in North County schools, which next year will have the only sixth-graders in elementary rather than middle school.

The board approved the hiring of 23 reading specialists, one for every elementary school. Reading test scores plummet in middle schools where teachers have complained that too many students lack skills they should have mastered in grade school.

The board also approved a capital budget of $43.6 million, which would require $31.1 million in county bonds. That, Elwell said, "is on the verge of being impossible to do."

The county's total debt affordability is $50 million, and has to include $5.2 million for the courthouse under construction and $6.7 million toward the new jail.

"Last year, we said we would do $13.9 million in [school] bonds for this coming fiscal year," he said.

Neither the capital nor the operating budget includes money for a $68 million backlog in building maintenance, a backlog growing by about 10 percent a year. But the operating budget does provide for two full-time roofers in addition to the two already at work.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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