Election changes budget process

Less confrontation expected in setting schools funding

January 22, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

At least some of the school board members who endured last year's bitter money feud are looking for a smoother budget-making process this year and a far better relationship with new County Executive Janet S. Owens and a mostly new County Council.

At this time last year, the board was angry and smarting from skirmishes with then-County Executive John G. Gary, who tried to wrest control of the board's budget-making powers. Compromises seemed out of the question.

This year, the adversarial tone is gone, replaced by talk of working together and setting goals.

Board members appear more willing to look more closely at the $516 million budget proposal Superintendent Carol S. Parham has proposed.

"The board needs to take a look at the budget and prioritize it," said member Paul Rudolph, "so that the County Council has something to work with."

Parham's proposed budget is 12 percent higher than the current one and is unlikely to be funded, county officials have said. Last year, the school board added about 2 percent to Parham's proposed 12 percent increase, sparking battles among the board, Parham, Gary and the County Council.

Last night was the school board's first work session on Parham's budget, which includes money for dozens of new teachers, computers for every classroom and a mentor program for teachers. The meeting was her first opportunity to answer questions from the board and defend her initiatives.

Reorganization proposed

Parham's budget package includes reorganizing the instruction department and hiring resource teachers and administrators that she said will lead quickly to improved scores on state tests.

The board made no decisions and won't vote on a final budget until Feb. 17. But it was clear even before the meeting that the members' attitudes toward the budget process had changed.

Proposal defended

School board President Carlesa Finney defended Parham's budget -- which includes the largest increase proposed for a Baltimore-area district -- but she acknowledged it may not be possible to get it fully funded.

"Last year, we thought we had the economic stability in the county to get it," Finney said. "And I still think we could, but there are competing interests in the county, which makes it less likely to happen."

Most of the County Council members, as did Owens, won office after promising to work with the school board and increase the money going to schools, Finney said, but she acknowledges that "it's a whole different ballgame" once politicians get in office and find out the real situation.

Reasons explained

The feud with Gary seems to have had another effect on this year's budget process. The former county executive demanded that the board be held accountable for where and on what it was spending money.

In presenting her budget proposal this year Parham distributed a neat two-page handout laying out how she wants education funding spent.

Her packet also compares Anne Arundel with other counties in starting teachers' salaries, state test scores and wealth per student. Parham maintains that while the county's wealth has increased since 1995, per-pupil spending has stayed about the same -- $6,465.

Spending in context

She noted last night that while her 12 percent increase may seem high compared to other counties, 2.7 percent of that is for negotiated items such as a pay raise for teachers, and 2 percent is from federal and state grant money. The increase in county money to be spent on new programs and materials would be 7.6 percent, she said.

No matter who is county executive, Parham said, it is the superintendent's job to say what the school system needs.

Pub Date: 1/22/99

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