Gary seeks school audit County executive asks state to investigate spending by district

'We have nothing to hide'

Member denies board illegally shifts funding or misleads on needs

July 26, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Carrying through on his threat made a month ago, Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary is asking state officials to audit the county school board's books for the last three years.

Gary, who has battled with the school board over spending since he took office in 1994, accused the board in an angry two-page letter to state Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick dated Friday of violating state law by shifting money among budget categories without County Council approval.

But Gregory V. Nourse, director of the school district's financial services, denied that the board or the school administration had done anything illegal.

"We asked [the council] to move things around, they voted on it and it was passed," he said, explaining that in early June, the County Council approved a $13 million transfer of school money to different categories.

Michael McNelly, school board vice president, said the board is not worried about a state audit.

"We have nothing to hide. Our books are open to anyone who wants to see them," he said.

Gary's request is his latest move in his long effort to gain control of the board's $454 million budget. He wants the board to at least explain where it spends its money, and why it claims to have been $9 million short this year.

According to state law, elected county officials can give a school system a specific amount to be spent in a budget category, but they cannot dictate how it is spent within that category.

"It appears that each year [school officials] have requested funds for new teachers, but do not actually employ the teachers," Gary wrote. "They receive funding for teachers or textbooks while being denied funding for increased overhead. They transfer the funds into the area denied by the County Council without council knowledge or prior approval. They come back the following year and request funding for the same teachers approved in the previous year and the cycle begins all over again. This has to stop."

Relations among Gary, the board and school Superintendent Carol S. Parham have been chilly since February, when the board sent Gary a $501 million budget request, a $61 million increase over the previous year.

Gary argued that the county could not afford such an increase and proposed a $454 million budget that the council approved.

School officials contend that they needed an increase of at least $23 million, but got only $14 million more, and to make ends meet, the board cut $9 million in programs and expenses.

On Tuesday, in an unprecedented appearance before the County Council, Gary introduced emergency legislation to give the school board another $6.2 million, but he said the council should withhold $5.8 million of that if the board doesn't fully explain why it needs the money.

"We have increased their budget every year," Gary said recently. "By state law, we are required to give them $7 million in maintenance of effort and we gave it to them plus another $7 million, so they got a $14 million increase. They have no reason to reduce their services. If they ran their school system with a $440 million budget last year, why can't they run it this year on $454 million?"

Enrollment increased by only 500 students, and the rate of inflation was less than 1 percent, he said.

Counting state and federal money and the additional $6.2 million he asked for Monday, the schools will receive an increase of $19.9 million, "which is five times the maintenance of effort and they are still claiming a shortfall," Gary complained.

But Nourse called Gary's claims "bamboozling" the numbers.

"State and federal money does not count," he said. "It is not five times the amount. It might be double."

Anne Arundel schools received "the lowest budget percentage increase in the area," Nourse said.

Pub Date: 7/26/98

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