School budget request stuns some on council

But Parham says needs exceed county's proposal

May 16, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Since County Executive Janet S. Owens proposed one of the largest school spending increases in years, some County Council members are stunned that school officials seemed to be hankering for even more.

"We have gone more than halfway to the table with them," said Daniel E. Klosterman Jr., County Council chairman. "They are getting $29 million out of a projected $32 million in new revenue."

Klosterman's remarks came a day after the school board and Superintendent Carol S. Parham presented their fiscal year 2000 budget request of $516 million to the council. Parham, who acknowledged that she is grateful for the county executive's proposed $500 million school budget, said there are still many things the school system needs.

"Every dollar is needed, and every dollar will be well spent," she told the council during the presentation Thursday. "The budget reflects the real needs of the school system."

But Klosterman and County Councilman Clifford R. Roop, said they were annoyed by Parham's remarks.

"I think it was the first three minutes of the presentation," Roop said. "It wasn't what we can do with the money, but what they can't do with what they are getting. There was no offering to look at their expenses and make adjustments there."

School board member Vaughn Brown said that while it might seem that the school system is getting everything it needs at the expense of other county departments, that is not necessarily the case.

The budget "addresses technology needs, teachers for the natural growth in student population and lowering the class size in first grade," he said. "But it does not include any of the positions that would be needed to improve performance. Other jurisdictions are surpassing us because they have the resources."

Roop and Klosterman said they agree that educating children is a top priority, but that the school board needs to prioritize its spending and stick to it.

"If the County Council has to make a tough call, then so do they," Klosterman said. "They have to set their own priorities. It's easier to pass the buck to someone else and make them the bad guy."

While Owens' proposed school budget includes money for 67 new teachers, $40 million for school maintenance and construction and a 3 percent pay increase for teachers, it does not include money for some key positions, educators said.

Among those are 14 teachers needed to reduce the size of all first-grade classes, four special education teachers, 25 elementary school reading teachers, three high school technology teachers, 12 mentor teachers and six guidance counselors.

School budget officials also told the council that they could end up about $8 million short because a wave of retirements will force them to pay out huge sums of unused sick and vacation benefits.

Pamela G. Beidle, council vice chairwoman and Councilwoman Barbara Samorajczyk disagreed with their colleagues.

"I think they were just telling us what they need," Samorajczyk said. "They are just telling us up front that they don't think they will have enough money to pay for."

If the council does not come up with the additional money for the retirement payouts, the board has two options: Ask the county for additional money later in the year or take the money from someplace else in the school budget -- such as new teachers or technology.

"I think they should follow their plan to hire more teachers," Beidle said. "They need to focus on getting these teachers hired."

Board member Thomas Florestano defended Parham and the board's budget request.

"She does not want to sound ungrateful, yet on the other hand, she wants the council to know that it is a possibility that we may not have the money for these payouts," he said. "Holding off hiring teachers, we can't do that. The new positions are to replace people that are leaving."

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