Gary requests school funds But he says board should fully explain why it needs money

Contingency fund transfer

Move pre-empts bill by Diane R. Evans to seek funding release

July 21, 1998|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

In a rare appearance before the Anne Arundel County Council last night, County Executive John G. Gary introduced emergency legislation, asking the council to give the school board nearly $6.2 million in additional funding.

Gary then asked the council to reject $5.8 million of that amount if the board doesn't fully explain why it needs the money.

Gary's request, though grudging, effectively pre-empted legislation introduced by Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, urging Gary to seek the release of the money.

Evans, an Arnold Democrat who is running for county executive, withdrew her nonbinding resolution before a vote but after a public hearing on it last night.

It was the first time in 33 years of charter government that a county executive has addressed the council in legislative session, other than to present the budget, according to longtime political observers.

Gary said he wanted to explain his request in person.

"Parents, teachers and County Council members, maybe during the next 30 days, you can get the school system to answer with some reasonable satisfaction what these expenditures are for," Gary said, reading from a prepared statement.

His request would transfer funding from a county contingency fund to the school board.

About 60 parents and residents staged a rally outside the county office building before the meeting and then packed the council chambers, demanding more money for schools.

Two of the speakers who got the biggest applause were Kelsey Schaible and Becky Rutledge, fifth-graders at Severna Park Elementary School. Repeating the refrain "It's not fair," the girls took turns reciting the cuts in the gifted and talented program, transportation for after-school activities, and other programs.

"We think the solution is pretty simple," said Kelsey, 9. "If you need money for education, we know where there is $9 million."

Because the budget for this fiscal year that was approved by the council on May 22 fell $47 million short of the board's $501 million request, the board has cut $9 million in programs and expenses. To make ends meet, the board has asked Gary for an additional $6.2 million, part of the $8.5 million that the council held back in a contingency fund instead of releasing it to the board.

That money has become a point of contention. Gary had said he would propose releasing it only if the board uses it to hire new teachers and for other expenses he approves.

Last night, Gary again accused the board of shifting money from categories such as instructional materials and maintenance to pay for over-runs in administration.

The county executive must propose the release of contingency funds before the council can vote on it.

Evans said that two weeks ago, she introduced her resolution, urging Gary to release the money to "end the stalemate" between him and school officials.

Evans' efforts to give the school board more money than Gary proposed in the county budget failed in May, with only one other council member, Democrat James DeGrange of Glen Burnie, voting with her on an amendment to shift $3.7 million from the contingency fund into the board's budget. However, Evans and DeGrange voted with the rest of the council to approve the final budget, including the contingency fund.

"Obviously, parties are beginning to talk to one another," she said. "I'm very happy to have seen the county executive here."

But relations between Gary and the board are still chilly, especially after the board, on the advice of its attorney, refused to further explain the funding request.

Gary said he was offended by the action and accused the board of making "political cuts" in school programs to upset parents. He again said he will ask for a state audit of the school system.

Board president Carlesa Finney said the school system's books are open for public inspection and she welcomed an audit. She rejected the accusations of politicking, drawing applause.

Pub Date: 7/21/98

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