Parham assails adopted budget She says school funds voted by council fall short of basic needs

'Wrong, mean-spirited'

Grim board ponders what services to cut after request slashed

June 04, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

The $454 million school budget adopted last week by the County Council is so skimpy it won't allow the system "to even maintain current levels of programs and services," schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham said yesterday.

Reading from a prepared statement, a visibly angry Parham told the Board of Education she could accept being told that it had asked for too much in its proposed $501 million budget, or not getting all the money she asked for.

"But I cannot accept the school system being punished for asking," she said. "This is wrong and mean-spirited, and someone has to say so."

This is the first time Parham, who has chosen her words carefully in previous statements on the budget, has lashed out in public at county officials.

"All sorts of words and inferences, scenarios, and accusations, if you will, have been aired in public settings, in private settings, and in the local media. But what remains are the realities," she said.

The budget the council approved is $27 million less than board members have said they need to pay for fixed costs, such as health care, retirement and pension funding and life insurance, she said. It doesn't include enough money to give teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living raise, either, she said.

"We are asking for cost-of-living increases for a committed and talented group of employees who have not in recent years received increases to keep pace with the economy," Parham said.

The board remained grim as members listened to Parham and began considering which programs and services to cut to make up for the lost money.

Gregory V. Nourse, acting superintendent of finance, said the board may cut after-school activities and the buses to take children home from them.

Half-day kindergarten could be replaced with all-day classes on alternating days to save on transportation costs. Maintenance projects -- such as new roofs, repainting and carpeting -- could be put on hold.

Ticket prices at sports events could be increased to cover the NTC costs of the events, and a pencil, paper and materials shortage is possible, he said.

"We have a deteriorating infrastructure, an $80 million backlog on maintenance projects," said board member Thomas Florestano.

"If we continue to do this, you have a case study of Prince George's County schools and the schools in Washington, D.C., where the infrastructure is destroyed. We must attack this problem now," he said.

Parham and County Executive John G. Gary have been at odds with one another since February when she and the board submitted their budget request -- a 14 percent increase from last year and her largest increase ever.

Gary, frustrated and angry with the size of the increase in an election year, accused the board of "padding" the budget and claimed that Parham agreed to it in exchange for her contract renewal. School board members vigorously denied those claims and defended Parham, whose contract was renewed before budget negotiations began.

Gary slashed their proposal and put $5.9 million for renovations to Brooklyn Park Middle School in a contingency fund, where the board does not have access to it unless the County Council agrees to appropriate the funds. School officials fear that the county could use the money for other purposes.

"I would strongly suggest that education dollars belong in the education fund," Parham said yesterday.

"It is time to stop playing games by holding funds in contingency."

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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