Parents plan rally to push for increased school funds Officials' feud leads to budget cuts, stalemate over contingency money

July 19, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Hundreds of parents, frustrated by a budget feud between the county and school system that has resulted in slashed programs for their children, are expected to rally in front of the

Arundel Center on Monday night and call for more money for schools.

Rally organizers began passing out fliers last week urging parents to gather at 6: 30 p.m. -- a half-hour before the County Council considers a resolution that even if passed has no power to change anything but which could pressure the county executive into releasing millions of dollars in his special contingency fund to the school board.

County Executive John G. Gary has designated $8.5 million in the fund for schools, but has said he won't release it until the school board agrees to spend it for new teachers. By law, school boards, not county executives, are supposed to decide how to spend school money.

"We are angry with all of them," said Janet Pogar, president of the Glen Burnie High School PTA and one of the rally's organizers. "They are like kids on a playground. I can see the county executive's point and I can see [School Superintendent] Carol Parham's point, but I don't care. They are quarreling and carrying on while the kids and the parents are the losers."

"This has really snowballed," she said of the rally.

Fliers are being posted at community swimming pools, and parents have begun a phone tree urging people to come and protest what some parents say is a power struggle among county and school officials.

For the last few years, the county Board of Education and Gary have struggled for control over school spending. This year, the school board asked Gary for $501 million to run the school system, a 14 percent increase over last year. Angry that the board had asked for what he considered an impossible amount of money, Gary accused the independent panel of trying to embarrass him during an election year.

Gary and the council gave the board $14 million more for a budget of $454 million. Gary also said he would give the contingency fund money to the board if it agreed to use the money to hire new teachers and not spend it on what he sees as other board priorities, including new administrators and increased benefits.

The board reacted by claiming a crisis budget squeeze and cutting $9 million in programs and services.

Slashed were funds for the middle school gifted-and-talented program and after-school activity buses. Fees for school athletic programs were raised.

Councilwoman Diane Evans, who is running as a Democrat against Gary, introduced the resolution this month directing the council to use an unspecified amount of money in the contingency fund to restore the gifted-and-talented and other high-profile programs. Although Evans, during the budget process, tried to restore funds that Gary had cut, the rest of the council voted against her. Ultimately, Evans voted with the council to put $8.5 million in the contingency fund.

Meanwhile, Carlesa Finney, school board president, has asked Gary to give the board $5.8 million from the contingency fund to pay for such things as $1 million in administrative costs, $1.7 for instructional salaries that could include new teachers, special education and transportation.

Gary refused Finney until she gave him details on how the money would be spent rather than just listing some categories and amounts.

Under state law, Finney and the board are not obligated to explain item by item what they intend to spend the money on. A county executive can place the money in a budget category and a school board can then decide how the money is spent within

the category.

"This is not personal, it is not about power in a personal sense," Finney said. "It's about checks and balances and the balance of powers in a democracy."

The bottom line, Finney said, is that the board needed $23 million from the county to maintain the same services as the year before and it received $14 million -- leaving a $9 million shortfall.

Pogar said that if the board gets any additional money from the county, parents want to make sure the board restores programs like the gifted-and-talented and French Immersion -- classes in which students learn all their subjects in French.

"Even if the County Council gives the board back the money," said Cindi Johnston, whose two children attend Crofton Woods Elementary. "They have no obligation to restore the programs that they cut."

Finney said it is possible that some of the programs could be restored if the board gets more money, but it would depend on how much it received.

Pub Date: 7/19/98

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