A budget voters expected

Anne Arundel: Executive Owens kept her campaign promise by delivering dollars for education.

May 06, 1999

WHEN JANET S. Owens became Anne Arundel County executive last fall, her support of education was widely credited for her easy victory over incumbent John G. Gary, who quarreled with educators about funding. Increased spending for schools was central to Ms. Owens' campaign.

The new executive backed up her pledge with her fiscal year 2000 budget -- a $730 million document that earmarks nearly all new revenue for schools. A $29.3 million increase is proposed for education, while many other agencies are being asked to hold the line. The County Council must approve the proposal, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The budget would enable Superintendent Carol S. Parham to hire 67 teachers, enough to trim an average first-grade class from 25 pupils to 20. Smaller classes in early grades correlate to improved performance through high school, researchers in Tennessee reaffirmed in a study released this week.

The Board of Education also would get $40 million in surplus county money to begin making a dent in the massive $440 million worth of repairs that schools reportedly require. Officials should seek $20 million in matching funds from the state.

Another worthy addition in the budget is $3 million for agricultural preservation. Ms. Owens, a native of rural South County, has an ambitious goal to protect 20,000 acres of farmland in four years by purchasing development rights and paying farmers to keep their land in agricultural use.

The budget also recommends a 3 percent raise for county employees, an administration reorganization and program and staff cuts. Police and fire will get small increases. Ms. Owens' first budget reflects the challenge she faces for the next several years: producing more money for education without compromising other vital services.

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