John Gary's dare Education: Anne Arundel executive thinks an audit will settle his argument with the school board.

July 29, 1998

JOHN G. GARY'S request for an audit of the past three years of school spending in Anne Arundel County is another escalation in the county executive's peculiar war of attrition with his local Board of Education.

The board, rather than waste energy fighting his request, should call his bluff and agree to an audit immediately.

It's no secret that the school board transfers money between budget categories. A $13 million transfer last May was presented to the council in open session and approved.

An audit is likely to confirm what Mr. Gary, the County Council and the public already know: that the board occasionally moves money between accounts in the running of a nearly half-billion-dollar operation.

Uncovering fiscal mismanagement is Mr. Gary's ostensible reason for seeking an audit. He wants to build a case to recalculate the formula for figuring the minimum "maintenance of effort" funding level that the state requires the county to appropriate for education each year. Mr. Gary last week wrote to Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland superintendent of education, to report that this year's increase in county, state and federal money should be sufficient to run Anne Arundel's schools. "Yet, our school board is claiming that they are 'short' $9 million," Mr. Gary wrote.

It's a cry that's been heard before from his colleagues in the Baltimore-Washington suburbs, including Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the commissioners in Carroll County.

Mr. Gary's situation may be more dire in that his county is pinched by a tax cap that is choking off revenue growth. That's why he seeks a legal means to give him political cover to reduce the county's contribution to education.

However, an audit might also support the system's contention that it has been shortchanged, and Mr. Gary's campaign may backfire. Voters are apprehensive about the state of public education and may punish officials who use schools as a political punching bag.

Pub Date: 7/29/98

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