Schools budget to get tighter

Chief announces plans to trim $7.1 million now

Cuts in training, maintenance

Anne Arundel

July 26, 2002|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

`A balanced budget now'Promising to stave off another multimillion-dollar budget deficit, Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith announced yesterday reductions of $7.1 million in staff training, equipment purchases and school maintenance costs in the current budget year.

"To have a cloud hanging over us like that, I just can't operate in that kind of an environment," said Smith, referring to a $6.3 million budget shortfall projected by school officials this year unless cuts were made. "I don't think the county or the taxpayers expect us to operate that way either."

Smith, who was hired last month to replace Superintendent Carol S. Parham, has spent his first few weeks on the job reviewing and refining the system's $600 million spending plan. During a budget briefing yesterday, Smith said he had found several ways to reduce costs and create a budget "cushion."

"We feel very confident that we have a balanced budget now," he said.

Smith said he shared his cost-cutting plans with County Executive Janet S. Owens recently and that she approved.

He said he never wants to ask Owens and the County Council for money to cover a deficit, which happened in May when school officials asked for and received $4.9 million in county funds to close out the 2002 budget year.

"It won't happen," Smith said. "It simply won't happen."

If Smith's calculations are correct, the cuts and other budget adjustments could leave the school system with a $5 million surplus for this budget, which ends June next year, money that could be used for new reading or math initiatives.

Smith, who worked closely with Associate Superintendent for Business and Management Services Gregory V. Nourse and Budget Supervisor Jim Goodwyn to retool the budget, has plotted reductions in the areas of professional development, computer purchases and building maintenance, among others.

Topping the list of reductions is a $1.6 million cut to the school system's computer replacement program, which supplies classrooms, libraries and front offices with new computers on a rotating cycle.

Schools previously targeted for new computers might be forced to wait, Nourse said.

A $1 million cut to the system's building maintenance budget should not affect school life, Smith said, although students might notice a few more scuffs on the walls.

He added that no cuts will be made to the school system's capital budget, which includes funds for major classroom renovations and construction projects.

Smith, whose first day as schools chief was July 1, also removed $1 million from the school system's central office's budget, money that could have been used to buy new desks and chairs. One of the first things Smith did when he arrived in Anne Arundel County from North Carolina was to freeze all hires within central services.

"We will keep the cuts away from the schools," said Smith, who has promised to narrow the racial achievement gap, improve special education and teach more third-graders to read at grade level. "Teachers and parents won't even see the cuts."

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