Budget proposal for county schools wins compliments

$803 million request praised as clear, but criticized on content

January 11, 2001|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's proposed $803 million budget request won compliments yesterday from parents, educators and board members, who praised it as ambitious and well thought out.

"I've never heard so many people say such nice things about a budget," said Board of Education member John A. Hayden, who heard Hairston's hour-long budget presentation Tuesday evening. "It was so much more detailed than the presentations we've received in the past."

But County Council members, who must approve a schools budget before June 1, had a slightly different take. Although they applauded Hairston's clear delivery, they balked at the 10.6 percent spending increase the superintendent proposed for the 2002 academic year.

"It concerns me that the school budget goes up each year and by so much," said Councilman T. Bryan McIntire, a North County-Owings Mills Republican. McIntire pointed out that education funding has increased by 32.9 percent since 1995. "Where does it stop?" he asked.

Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat who attended the budget session, said the superintendent's proposal would be "scaled back," partly because of concerns that the nation's economy may be slowing.

"When you are in good economic times, as we still are, you can spend money on one-time expenditures," said Bartenfelder. "But what we have to be careful about is building in increases that will affect us for years to come. You can't have a 10 or 11 percent increase every year."

County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger tempered those concerns. "I'm never shocked," he said, referring to Hairston's dollar figure. "I think that more than anything, this budget is an agenda and a wish list. The superintendent understands that you have to be fiscally responsible."

Amid discussion of the superintendent's budget yesterday came the news that his one-time chief financial officer had resigned. Hairston had transferred Robin L. Churchill to another position within the system a week before he unveiled his spending plan, but has not explained why. Her resignation is effective June 30.

The proposed budget was well received by parents and administrators, some of whom said they appreciated the superintendent's careful delineation of goals and spending priorities.

"It was understandable to everyone," said Boyd Crouse, chairman of the Southeast Area Advisory Council, who added that the superintendent's budget outline will be easy to share with his council. "There may be some minimal questions just for clarification, but we should be able to make a very good presentation to the group."

The substance of Hairston's budget proposal - key elements are $26 million to increase salaries for teachers and administrators and $10 million to provide every teacher with a computer - also received positive reactions.

"At times in the past ... artificially low numbers were built into the budget before [contract] negotiations had come to completion," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "For the first time in a long time, the superintendent is showing us in black and white that he is understanding of the salary needs of teachers."

Hairston's plans for helping poorly performing students received cautious praise from African-American groups.

"It's interesting that [such items] are in the budget," said Anthony Fugett, president of the Baltimore County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, referring to a $1.94 million program to pay teachers at 10 struggling schools to work during the summer, and a $412,000 Academic Intervention Team, which would work with such schools.

Fugett said he's concerned that the items might be cut. "When you look at what the superintendent asks for and what he receives," there is always a gap, he said.

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