Funds held to cut deficit

Schools suspend spending planned for textbooks, supplies

$9.6 million to be saved

System may need to turn to county for additional help

February 20, 2002|By Stephen Kiehl | Stephen Kiehl,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel school officials announced yesterday a series of cost-cutting measures - including freezing staff travel and closing accounts for school supplies - designed to reduce a $14.7 million deficit for this fiscal year.

Officials expect to save $9.6 million with the cuts, but that still might have to come from the county if the school system can't find more cuts.

"We've taken a pretty fine microscope to this problem," interim Superintendent Kenneth P. Lawson said yesterday. "There's no large pot of money sitting around that we haven't looked at very critically."

FOR THE RECORD - Because of an editing error, an article in Wednesday's Anne Arundel County edition about the county school system's budget deficit incorrectly stated the amount of money the schools may need from the county government to end the year in the black. The school system may have to ask the county for $5.1 million, not $9.6 million.
The Sun regrets the error.

The deficit is partly due to unexpected costs in staff salaries and special education. It means the school system might have to ask the county in May for more money - something that hasn't happened in a quarter-century, school officials said.

Anne Arundel County government is on course to break even for this fiscal year, which will end June 30, said budget officer John Hammond. If the school system needed money, the county would have to dip into a $27 million surplus fund that's been saved up over the past few years.

"We're counting on the board to do the best they can on their own," Hammond said, explaining the county had hoped to use that $27 million in next year's budget. "But to the extent that the board may need some assistance, that has to be considered," he said.

Last week, the school system took back from schools $527,000 in textbook and supply money. This week, the system is emptying the instructional supply accounts of its area directors and curriculum coordinators and using the money to reduce the deficit.

Schools that have a desperate need can appeal to Assistant Superintendent Nancy Mann. This week, for instance, George Fox Middle in Pasadena asked for - and got - more printer cartridges. The school has 45 printers and one fresh cartridge left.

"We've tried as best we can to insulate the students" from the cuts, Lawson said. "But for every dollar [taken back], that's some textbook or paper or supply they're not getting this year, so that's some effect on children."

The school system also is cutting money spent on part-time workers, equipment and maintenance, and continuing a hiring freeze for noninstructional employees that began last fall.

Some creative accounting also will help reduce the deficit. Money from the capital budget - a separate account that is reserved for construction and facilities - will be used to pay $500,000 in salaries of employees usually covered under the operating budget.

The school system, which has a $590 million operating budget, entered the year expecting a $9.1 million shortfall because its budget request was not fully funded by the county. That shortfall has grown because of unexpected costs.

The system is spending $3.5 million more on salaries because, in the tightening job market, there hasn't been the attrition officials expected. Also, the system had to send more special education students to private programs than anticipated.

But there also have been some savings no one counted on. The mild winter has meant $500,000 in savings on heating oil, along with less money spent on overtime for plow drivers and maintenance crews.

School officials said they will continue to look for ways to reduce the anticipated $5.1 million shortfall, but they didn't seem optimistic. "We have looked at every pot, and this is the best we can do right now," said Associate Superintendent Gregory V. Nourse.

Added Lawson: "We want the public to know we're going to take some measures to control expenditures and we may require some help from the county."

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