Baltimore County's school superintendent vigorously defended last night his plan to seek a relatively small spending increase for next year, saying it must be viewed in conjunction with an ambitious request for millions of dollars for school construction and repairs.
Even as he justified a modest proposal that originally totaled $641 million, Anthony G. Marchione told a school board work session on the budget that he would seek another $1.2 million for the 1998-1999 academic year to buy graphing calculators and government textbooks, and to study the school system's organizational structure.
Moving to defuse criticism from the public earlier in the week, Marchione told the board that no plans exist to reduce support for music or to shift all high school programs for adults to the community colleges.
"First and foremost, I must point out to the board and to the members of the public that the budget which I have presented to you in no way is a 'maintenance of effort' budget," Marchione said. "Our total request exceeds the funding required by state law and it clearly addresses priorities which this Board of Education has established."
The superintendent's statements came as the board began grappling with a budget proposal that would add 52 teachers to handle enrollment growth, cover the 3 percent employee raises negotiated in contracts last winter, expand prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs and slightly reduce high school class size.
Complaints about budget
Some parents have said Marchione's proposed budget increase 2.25 percent until last night -- is too small at a time when the economy is strong and local and state governments are projecting healthy tax revenues.
Other Baltimore area suburban superintendents have proposed increases ranging from 6.7 percent to 11.8 percent.
Marchione would finance most of his new ideas and new positions by cutting from the district's central administration. All divisions except for maintenance have been told to cut their spending on nonsalaried items by 9 percent, Chief Financial Officer John M. Markowski said.
Noting that the school system has received almost $300 million in the past three years for construction and repairs, Marchione said that "it is obvious that our governmental leaders place a high priority on public education."
"Their support makes it absolutely essential that we account for every dollar we spend," Marchione said, explaining why he believes it is important to cut from the central administration before asking for a larger operating budget increase.
The superintendent announced he was adding $1.2 million to his original budget request -- increasing the spending plan to $642 million. The new proposal would be a 2.45 percent increase over the current school year.
Most of the extra money would help prepare students for the high school assessment tests approved last year by the state school board -- tests that every sixth-grader will be required to pass.
Marchione proposes buying six classroom sets of graphing calculators for every middle and high school for algebra and geometry -- at a cost of $900,000 -- and spending $167,000 to buy 95 classroom sets of American government books for the state tests in that subject.
System review sought
The superintendent also said he wants to spend $150,000 to begin a "comprehensive review of our entire organizational structure."
Board members Phyllis Ettinger and Michael Kennedy suggested that the board consider going a step beyond Marchione's proposal and seek more money for textbooks, perhaps as a one-time grant from the county government.
"There are clearly some very significant needs with textbooks," Ettinger said.
During the work session, Marchione also answered the two biggest areas of concern -- music and adult education -- raised during a public hearing Monday night.
"It is simply inaccurate for anyone to suggest that this budget represents a reduction in our support of the arts in our school system," Marchione said, answering music supporters who had suggested during the public hearing that the arts budget was being cut by as much as 19 percent.
On adult education, Marchione has proposed transferring control much of the program to the community colleges, saying that the colleges and school district are duplicating services.
At least 30 speakers at the public hearing criticized the idea of shifting the district's high school equivalency programs to the colleges.
Regarding the high school equivalency programs for adults, Deputy Superintendent Elfreda W. Massie told the board that not all programs would be transferred to the colleges and that the school system would continue to oversee evening high school, alternative programs and Even Start.
Community colleges to meet
Massie said the colleges would take over such classes as Italian cooking and computer instruction -- though the colleges would offer them in many of the same locations as the school system, with many of the same teachers. Officials from the schools and community colleges will hold their first formal meeting today to begin discussing the transition, she said.
During the work session, the board discussed such issues as student-teacher ratios, special education spending and reading instruction. They also were told that 16 prekindergarten and 10 full-day kindergarten classes will be added next fall.
The board is scheduled to vote on the budget Feb. 24.
Pub Date: 2/13/98