School budget Kabuki Political script rarely wavers in deciding education spending.

March 02, 1998

IF IT'S MARCH, it must be time for daffodils, shamrocks and the annual school budget ritual. Much like a Japanese Noh play -- the highly stylized classical drama where the audience is well-acquainted with the story line and characters -- all the players are assuming their customary roles.

Act 1 opens with Anne Arundel County school Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who proposes a budget larger than the year before.

In Act 2, the county Board of Education piles on more money requests before passing it to County Executive John G. Gary.

In Act 3, the executive usually slices and dices before turning it over to the council, which by law can subtract but not add items.

Before the final curtain, the council usually shaves the budget another million or two.

This year, Dr. Parham showed little of her usual restraint. Times are good, the schools should benefit, she reasoned. She asked for $493 million to operate the schools, $52 million more than the current budget of $441 million.

Most of the increase would go to add more than 100 teachers to reduce class size while accommodating an additional 1,000 students. The system expects to grow next fall from 72,000 to 73,000 students. Dr. Parham is also asking for more money for textbooks and support personnel, including secretaries and janitors.

In predictable fashion, the school board couldn't resist adding $8.5 million to Dr. Parham's already healthy budget. And just as scripted, Mr. Gary vowed to pare the plan before submitting it to the County Council.

Mr. Gary favors certain goals of the superintendent, all laudable: reducing class size, providing remedial help for poor readers, operating an alternative school for students with discipline problems, and reducing textbook shortages.

But expect him to hack away at requests for more guidance counselors and vice principals and a request to expand summer learning programs. He also maintains that school construction must be better managed.

More negotiations are likely before the budget moves to the council, which might even stray a bit from the script. This being an election year, the audience's applause -- does it play in Pasadena? -- is more critical than usual.

Pub Date: 3/02/98

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