Two parents' groups push in favor of school budget

Special education panel, PTA members `hopeful' about $744 million request

March 28, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Two groups of parents with children in the Baltimore County school system have launched information campaigns to persuade county officials to support the Board of Education's proposed $744 million budget.

Members of the Baltimore County PTA and the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Special Education won't know if their lobbying efforts will pay off until April 13, when County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger presents his budget message to the County Council.

Nearly two weeks later, parents and teachers will get their chance to react to Ruppersberger's spending proposals during a public forum at Loch Raven High School. County Council members must approve an operating budget by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

"I'm more hopeful than I ever have been that we'll get the money that was requested," said Mary Pat Kahle, a member of the special education advisory committee, which has spoken out about spending priorities at recent school board meetings.

Members of the advisory committee sent a letter to Ruppersberger recently summarizing research that shows that the number of children in the school system requiring the "most resource-intense instruction" has increased by about 68 percent since 1993.

"We've never done this much homework," said Kahle. "As a result, we got a good reception from the school board."

School Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione's budget request -- which represents a $61 million increase over this year's budget -- was presented to the school board in January and includes money to hire 63 special education teachers and to provide $1,000 signing bonuses for new mathematics and science teachers.

The budget proposal also includes a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers and more money for principals and substitute teachers -- moves that Marchione hopes will keep qualified, experienced staffers from seeking higher-paying jobs elsewhere.

PTA members and a representative of the special education advisory committee will meet with Ruppersberger today. They will talk with the county executive about the need for more money to keep classroom positions, including school counselors and special education teachers, said county PTA President Linda Olszewski.

"We don't want to lose any of those positions," said Olszewski. "Mr. Ruppersberger usually listens to our priorities."

Olszewski said the group is meeting with Ruppersberger later than usual this year, making it more difficult to plan lobbying efforts. "At this point, we don't know what we have to fight for," she said.

Ruppersberger's finance staff is working to put together the budget, said spokeswoman Elise Armacost. A public budget hearing with the County Council is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 25 at Loch Raven High, she said.

School board President Donald L. Arnold said he is hopeful that the school system, which usually gets the largest share of the county's operating budget, will receive all the money the board requested, especially given the county's projected $96 million budget surplus for the current fiscal year.

To accommodate education needs, Arnold suggested that county officials ease the tight limits on how much the budget can grow from year to year. The limits are based on projected revenue increases.

"At a time when the county is making substantial returns on investments, the question becomes how big of a kitty do you want to have," said Arnold.

"They should look at the formula and look at adjusting it in light of the returns they have had and the fact that [schools] have a number of needs," he said.

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