School board's trump card Anne Arundel: Preparing earlier to make cuts will help school system better control its budget.

July 07, 1998

THE ANNE Arundel County school board's last-minute exercise in budget-cutting shows there are expenditures that can be trimmed without severely compromising its mission to teach children.

The process was messy and several suggestions, such as merging Bates and Annapolis middle schools, were not fully thought out and needlessly provoked parents.

Although the school system received $454 million for the coming school year (a $14 million increase), $9 million had to be cut to finance employee health insurance premiums, retirement benefits and salaries.

In addition, the board had to account for an extra pay period, which had been accumulating and deferred for 10 years. County Executive John G. Gary refused to provide the money to cover these costs.

As the budget battle continues to play out, the school board is at a distinct disadvantage. It has little time to react. Even though Superintendent Carol S. Parham and her staff were able to identify $9 million in programs that could be cut or fees that could be raised, board members found problems with the recommendations. They were in a weak position, however, to develop effective alternatives.

Since it appears that the county executive and council are likely to repeat their actions, the school board, which must win approval for its budget from those two offices, needs to prepare earlier.

Rather than hacking away at items at the last minute to balance the books, as the board did this year, it should begin a yearlong process to unearth low-priority programs and spending that could be eliminated.

By having contingency cuts in hand, the board would regain a larger measure of control over spending. If the county executive decides to slash programs the board favors, the board would be in position to maintain the funding, eliminate lesser programs and still balance its budget.

If the board wants to trump Mr. Gary next year, this is a strategy it would be wise to follow.

Pub Date: 7/07/98

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