Gary says school plan was padded He hints Parham cut deal with board to let in 'phony expenses'

Officials deny accusation

Superintendent says her contract renewal preceded budgeting

May 03, 1998|By Kris Antonelli and Andrea F. Siegel | Kris Antonelli and Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County school board padded its budget proposal with "phony expenses," County Executive John G. Gary said Friday. He implied that Superintendent Carol S. Parham went along with the board's wishes in exchange for her contract renewal.

Gary said Parham's previous budgets have been reasonable, but that this year's request was out of line and surprising. "Do you think that Carol caved in to the pressure of her board for an unreasonable increase?" he asked in an interview Friday. "This is the year that Carol Parham's contract had to be renewed."

Both Parham and school board members said that her contract was renewed last spring -- well before this year's budget was discussed.

"That is insulting and unprofessional and Mr. Gary knows better," Parham said. "I have a very good working relationship with [Gary], and we have worked together and solved many problems. I have never caved on any issue, and quite frankly I had a number of options and I certainly didn't have to take this contract."

School board members said they signed a letter of intent last year spelling out the details of her new contract, which took effect in February.

Parham sent a $493 million budget proposal to the school board in January. The board increased that to $501 million and sent it to Gary, who cut it to $454 million before sending it to the County Council. The council makes the final decision Friday.

"There was no outrage about my initial budget," Parham said. "The board adds to my budget every year. It's part of the process."

Paul G. Rudolph, board vice president, said that Parham's contract had nothing to do with the budget.

"The whole implication is ludicrous," he said.

Board priorities questioned

Gary has scrapped with the school board and the way it spends money since he was a delegate in the General Assembly more than a decade ago. The battle grew fierce in the past two years, as he criticized the eight-member independent board for its school construction program and accused it of avoiding tough redistricting decisions and of spending in what he considered the wrong areas.

Friday, he criticized its members for placing teacher raises and other operating expenses ahead of money for new teachers.

Need for raises denied

At Gary's request, the board gave him a list of spending priorities. But the list angered him, and Friday he used it as ammunition against the board.

"One of the most really frustrating things is their priority list," Gary said, waving a three-page copy of it. "Some of this we think is just phony. To put all of the negotiated items ahead of all of the new teachers is really difficult to deal with."

Gary pointed to about $34 million in "must-have" and "negotiated items," such as teacher pay raises, health insurance and retirement plan contributions and said some of those figures were padded.

"We have no way of auditing these folks," he said. "The state does not allow us to do it. They find the motherhood and apple pie issues, and they load them up and transfer the money around. Expanding the bureaucracy is more important to them than hiring new teachers."

Fuming over the list, Gary put $3.5 million for 40 new teachers in a county administrative contingency budget instead of giving it to the school board. He said that would assure that the board could spend the money only to hire teachers and not put it toward the $9.4 million it is seeking for a 3 percent employee raise. If the money went toward school personnel generally, the board could use it for what it likes.

Gary is not proposing a raise for county employees and rejected the idea that school workers should get one.

He said he didn't budget $68.2 million in capital projects -- a windfall for the school system -- to woo voters as he seeks re-election in November; increases in county revenue made it possible, he said.

Doesn't care about criticism

"If I had given them less money, that would be because it was an election year. If I give them too much, it's because it's an election year," he said of criticism.

Gary said he is the one who has to answer to the voters who call him to complain.

"I don't care if they vote me out of office," he said. "I run for office because I want to accomplish things and make progress."

But John Kurpjuweit, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, argued that Gary is meddling where he shouldn't.

"He's holding a club -- or really, judging by how immature he is acting, a rattle -- over their heads and saying if he does not get his way, he is going to take his ball and go home," Kurpjuweit said.

Board a 'whipping boy'

Board member Joseph H. Foster defended Parham and the board's budget process.

"Our budget is not padded," Foster said. "He is using the media to challenge this whole thing. If he has a question about any of these figures, we need to sit down and talk about it."

In previous years, the school board has gone along with Gary's requests to keep its budget plan lean, but the schools have suffered for it, said board member Thomas E. Florestano of Crofton.

Last year's spending increase was 3.3 percent, and the previous year's was smaller.

"This year, we let it all hang out," he said. "I am just sorry that he lacks the confidence in the board and that he feels he has to set this contingency fund up. I don't think the money is being squandered or thrown away. We seem to be his whipping boy."

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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