Balto. Co. officials develop wish list

Board expected to seek $41 million for schools on top of annual budget

Priority is employee raises

Spending plan still at $806.2 million, 2.3% more than this year

February 22, 2002|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

Asked to turn in a lean budget proposal in tough economic times, the Baltimore County school board appears ready to comply. Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's operating budget request for the coming year is $806.2 million, 2.3 percent more than the schools got this year.

But in an unusual move, the board is poised Tuesday to tack on a wish list - worth as much as $41 million - to what has been repeatedly called a "status quo budget." Board members say they aren't ignoring County Executive C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger's directive to keep a lid on spending, but they're letting him know - in an uncharacteristically public way - that they have needs they couldn't squeeze into this year's request.

The No. 1 priority above and beyond the budget document is cost-of-living raises for the county's teachers and other school system employees, board members said. Concerned about keeping up with other districts offering pay increases, they said they would like to see employee raises of between 2 percent and 3 percent - at a cost of between $10.3 million and $15.5 million.

"It really would be fiscally irresponsible for us to ask for a lot more than the county says it can give to us," said school board President Donald L. Arnold. "But we would also be fiscally irresponsible if we didn't prepare a priority list if there should be some additional monies available because things change."

At a work session Wednesday, board members praised Ruppersberger for his continued support of public schools (this year, education accounted for 56 percent of the total county budget). At the same time, they tossed a political challenge to him: He will have to be the one to say no to raises, school computers and more.

Elise Armacost, spokeswoman for the county executive, reiterated yesterday that there will be no extra money this year for the schools - or for any other county agency. Raises for other county employees seem doubtful, she said.

"No one should have any unreasonable expectations about this wish list," she said. "Every agency in this government has been told that this is not a year where anybody can expect any kind of extras."

"We have made that abundantly clear this year," she said.

Hairston's proposed budget, which seeks $18 million more than the schools got this year, includes a few new programs - full-day kindergarten at two schools, expanded prekindergarten classes at six, new software for high school graphics classes. But the supplemental priority list, which will not be final until Tuesday, might include $22.8 million for technology, $8 million of which would provide a computer to every teacher.

The board's biggest concern appeared to be retaining teachers who could be lured by higher salaries elsewhere.

"We are not where we would like to be with regards to salaries for our personnel," said board member Phyllis E. Ettinger. "Our great fear is we may be chasing people out of our system for failing to provide them with" enough money.

Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said he hopes Ruppersberger follows the direction of the board.

"Now the county executive has the opportunity to say yes," he said, "as opposed to being forced to say no."

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