Schools might receive surplus Gary and Parham trade recriminations over possible funds

'Cuts were not necessary'

Superintendent didn't expect to receive additional money

August 21, 1998|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

As it slashed programs and battled the County Council for more money, the Anne Arundel County school board never considered the likelihood that it will receive up to $10 million in surplus tax revenue this fall.

In his budget message to the County Council in May, County Executive John G. Gary hinted that if tax revenues continued to grow, he would consider giving money to programs that required additional support.

Last year, the school system received $7.5 million in surplus money to supplement its regular budget.

The exact amount of the surplus that could go to schools depends on how much tax money is collected. But $10 million, in addition to the $5.8 million in contingency money released by the County County this week, would raise the school budget to $470 million.

Gary said yesterday that school officials knew about the possible surplus but made unnecessary cuts and used parents and students as pawns in their three-month battle with the county.

"The cuts were not necessary in the first place," Gary said. "I think a state audit will prove that to be true." State Department of Education officials are weighing Gary's request that they examine the school system's books.

But Schools Superintendent Carol S. Parham angrily denied that Gary ever told her about the possibility of surplus money being available this year.

"After the way he hammered us this year, why in the world would we expect to get any money from him?" Parham said.

Parham said the county executive "has always said that he has given us enough money. If he knew he was going to give us more, why didn't he stand up in front of the County Council and say so? Why did he let us go through all of this knowing there would be more money?"

Last year, Gary gave the board surplus money for school renovations and textbooks.

Parham said yesterday that she thought that even if Gary gave the school board surplus money, it would be earmarked, as it was last year, for specific items.

Gary's comments also surprised school board members, who noted that surplus money delivered in October does not help balance the school budget by July, as required by state law.

In weeks of maneuvering, Gary and the council approved an education budget far short of what the school board requested. The school board responded by slashing $9 million from its budget -- including money for some gifted and talented programs.

Then the council released an additional $5.8 million and the school board voted late Wednesday to use the money to hire 60 teachers and restore $620,000 of the $9 million in cuts.

The board rescinded new fees for music and athletic programs and dropped plans to discontinue middle school after-school buses and to turn off heating and air conditioning after school.

But the gifted and talented program was not restored and there will be fewer computers in the elementary and middle schools this year because plans to expand labs will be delayed another year.

"I'm very pleased they restored their issues," Gary said of the music and athletic fees. "And I am glad they stopped using the parents and everyone as political tools.

"This was an unnecessary process to put people through."

The council's vote releasing the contingency fund money just four days ago seemed to signal a truce between the county and school system, but Gary's remarks yesterday generated more bitterness.

"Why would the county executive allow the board to go through $9 million in cuts and this process only to come out and make a statement like that?" asked board Vice President Michael McNelly.

"This is really low-level dirty politics during an election year," he said.

Pub Date: 8/21/98

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