School budget control sought Council members want spending on new staff, not raises

'Skating on thin ice'

Board's lawyer says it's illegal to ask for such conditions

May 22, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

Some Anne Arundel County Council members say they would like to provide more money for new teachers and special education, but they want to make sure any increase in the school system's budget goes only for those items and not on such things as pay raises for teachers.

The school board's lawyer said it would be illegal to put conditions on how the board spends money, and a county lawyer said conditions could be a problem.

Council members realize they "cannot put strings on the money and require the board to spend it the way the council wants," but some are looking for a way to control how the board spends some of its allotment, said Councilman William C. Mulford II, an Annapolis Republican.

"If they don't ask for it, then we don't provide," said council Chairman Bert L. Rice, an Odenton Republican. "I would like to see something that is in writing that would say this is what we'll do with any moneys that become available."

The council would be "skating on thin ice" by placing conditions on money for the school board, said council member Diane R. Evans, an Arnold Democrat.

Tuesday, the council wrapped up more than two weeks of hearings that focused on a $698.6 million county operating budget, which includes $300.6 million for the Board of Education, and $33.4 million for construction projects. County Executive John G. Gary's total $881 million proposal also includes $182.4 million in state and federal aid to schools, community college and libraries.

The council will also decide today on a capital budget, which covers construction and major expenditures, based on a $200.7 million proposal from Gary.

A healthy economy allowed Gary to propose a boost in spending for the school board and most county departments while adhering to the county's tax ceiling, which calls for a 2-cent cut in the property tax rate in the coming year. The rate will decrease from $2.38 per $100 of assessed value to $2.36 if the council approves Gary's plan today.

The county auditor has recommended more than $4 million in "cuts" or changes to the budget, including corrections of mathematical errors and salaries that were listed twice.

The Board of Education budget is the only part of the spending plan in which the council may increase spending.

Gary ignored this month the board's top priorities -- a 3 percent cost-of-living-allowance raise and funding part of teacher health care costs -- and instead allotted $3.5 million for 41.4 new teachers and 19 teaching assistants. He proposed putting that money into a county-controlled contingency fund available to the board only if it requested it for teachers.

In his capital budget, Gary proposed giving the board $8 million for a new Davidsonville Elementary School, but only if the board picked a different site. And he has allotted $7.3 million to plan and build Mayo Elementary School next year, though the board has said it wouldn't need planning money until 2001 or construction money until 2002.

Such conditions infringe on the board's authority, said P. Tyson Bennett, the school board attorney.

"There is no doubt about the fact that the county executive's budget is not consistent with the law," he said. "The contingency fund is illegal."

The board has not considered legal action because the council has not voted on the budget, Bennett said.

"I don't think that we should be dictating to the board," said Councilman James DeGrange, a Glen Burnie Democrat.

"They should be handling the education needs and requests. I don't think we should be funding something that may not be a need at this point."

The attorney general has said a county may give a school board money outside of the school board budget "as long as no strings were attached which usurped any of the prerogatives of the Board of Education in matters of education policy," David A. Plymyer, a lawyer for the county, wrote in a memo to the council Tuesday.

Paul G. Rudolph, the school board vice president, said the board might consider taking extra money to hire teachers but said he thinks that does not reflect a decision by the board.

Pub Date: 5/22/98

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