Angry board defends Parham Panel irked by Gary, who said school padded budget request

'A very difficult year'

May 07, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school board members were fuming yesterday over the county executive's suggestion that their superintendent submitted an inflated and unrealistic budget as a way to curry favor with them.

"I don't know what the purpose of those accusations were," said Paul Rudolph, vice president of the board. "They were mean-spirited and resulted only in the disruption of the education process."

Board members defended Superintendent Carol S. Parham yesterday during their regularly scheduled meeting, saying that the integrity of the board and Parham was compromised when County Executive John G. Gary implied last week that Parham caved in to the board's wish for a 12 percent budget increase in exchange for a renewed contract. Previous increases have been 1 percent to and 3 percent.

Gary has been irked since February, when the board submitted a $501.5 million budget. The board had asked for $8.5 million more than Parham recommended. Gary made the comments about Parham during a Friday afternoon conference with Sun reporters. He also said the school board had "padded" its budget expenses and submitted "phony" numbers.

Well before Parham submited her budget to Gary in February, her staff and the board knew they were going to receive only a modest increase, said Lisa Ritter, Gary's spokeswoman. And there have been times in the past three years when Gary has thought Parham's actions were driven by the board's wishes, she said.

"The executive was clearly frustrated and upset with the budget that was proposed by the board," Ritter said. "When he saw that budget [increase] was five times what they were told they could expect, he clearly felt betrayed and that he was purposely put in this position by the board and Dr. Parham."

Parham and the board began negotiations in the spring of 1997, and she signed a new contract June 18, before this year's budget discussions began, board members said.

"People can easily find this out," said board member Janet Bury. "I would be surprised if anyone took his remarks seriously."

Although the board gave Gary a list of spending priorities, it angered him because the top priorities were teacher raises, health insurance and retirement contributions that totaled about $34 million and did not include any new teacher positions.

Gary called those figures "padded" and "phony." He funded about $22 million of the board's top priorities. The County Council could restore the other $12 million in the final budget, which is to be approved May 22. Council hearings on the school budget start tomorrow.

"This is going to be a very difficult year," Gregory V. Nourse, acting superintendent for finance, told the board. "If the budget is passed exactly the way it is now, we will be at least $9 million short for making our basic expenses this year."

Gary budgeted $3.5 million for health and life insurance costs instead of the $7 million that teacher and other employee union contracts require the school system to fund, Nourse said. The executive also put $3.5 million into a separate fund that the school board can use only to hire new teachers.

"We will probably not get all the money we need to run the school system in fiscal year 1999," Nourse said. "I don't want to sound the alarm yet, because we still have the County Council hearings, but they are going to have some difficult decisions to make."

Gary and the board could find themselves in a stalemate. Gary's proposed increase in the capital budget, to $68 million from the $58 million the board asked for, requires a letter of support from the school board before any money can be approved and projects can proceed.

If the board decides not to write the letter, money for projects such as Davidsonville Elementary will remain in the county's general fund. Gary can't build the school without the board's approval, and the board can't build the school without the county money.

The board planned to complete Davidsonville Elementary in 2001 for $14 million. Gary contends it can be done sooner and for about $10 million, so he put $8 million into the county general fund, with the rest to come next year.

Gary has said that the board's insistence on building on Central Avenue is driving up the cost of the school, because major road improvements, site preparation and a well are needed. Gary wants a new site where a design prototype can be used at a big savings.

"In order to make this work, we will need a flat site with public water on a decent road, and all of this must be in south county," Nourse said.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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