School board delays decision on lawsuit Members seek other ways to address budget issues

June 12, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Concerned that lengthy and expensive legal action would hurt more than help, the Anne Arundel County school board put off deciding whether to sue the county for holding $8.5 million of school money in a separate fund.

"Everyone thinks that cooler heads will emerge," board member Thomas E. Florestano of Annapolis said yesterday. "I'm optimistic about it."

His comments represented a drastic change from earlier in the week, when he had said the board had no choice but to sue and compared board members to the lead character in the novel and movie "Sophie's Choice," who had to decide which of her two children to surrender to the Nazis. He said the board is not backing away from a lawsuit but hoping to work out problems another way.

The board met for five hours Wednesday in an unusual closed session to discuss how to get the money that County Executive John G. Gary and the County Council placed in a contingency fund instead of in its budget.

Board lawyer P. Tyson Bennett has said the executive and the council illegally usurped the board's authority by requiring that the money be used only for new teachers and for creating a middle school and arts center at the old Brooklyn Park High School on Hammonds Lane.

Gary and the council also gave the board $8 million for a new Davidsonville Elementary School, but only if the board picked a site that Gary prefers. And he allotted $7.3 million to plan and build Mayo Elementary next year, although the board has said it didn't need planning money until 2001 or construction money until 2002.

"It's such a complex and sensitive issue that [the board] needs more time to decide what should be done," Bennett said.

The board also discussed how to make up for a $9 million shortfall in the fiscal 1999 budget. Florestano said about 40 options are available -- from abandoning programs to laying off guidance counselors.

"What we did mostly during the meeting was take the input and ingested all the combinations about what we can do," he said.

The board will meet in an open session at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Annapolis to hammer out solutions to the shortfall.

"It's going to be very hard," said board President Carlesa R. Finney, "for two reasons: We do not want to or need to cut into our current budget, and we are trying to improve on what we have. And it's going to be hard to make eight people come to a consensus on what should be done."

Pub Date: 6/12/98

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