Council rethinks meeting on budget

Balto. Co. parents to get time to lobby for schools

April 01, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

After initially rebuffing school advocates, the Baltimore County Council moved yesterday to sit down with the parents who requested a meeting so they could lobby for full funding of the school system's $891 million budget request.

The council, which is scheduled to approve a budget May 30, told parents last week that it couldn't meet until June or July.

But council Chairman Kevin Kamenetz said yesterday that it would try to rearrange previous commitments to meet with the parents, who are worried that the school system's budget request will be slashed.

"I'm just trying to be reasonable," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat.

Meg O'Hare, who leads the Northeast Area Advisory Council of parents that counsel school officials, was particularly upset by last week's rebuff and pleased by its reversal.

"I'm glad to hear it," she said. "It shouldn't take this much work, but the important thing is they're going to meet with us. Hopefully, this will become a yearly tradition."

Michael Franklin, president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County, said he appreciated the council's willingness to meet.

"It means a lot," he said. "Because when I called them, I got a date in June."

The PTA Council is among several groups of parents that advocate for the schools and had tried to meet with the council under the name of their umbrella organization, the Baltimore County Education Coalition.

The school system has asked the county for $575 million in funding for next fiscal year, a $28 million increase.

But school officials and parents are worried that the district won't get that much because of the poor economy.

In a meeting with parents last month, County Executive James T. Smith Jr. pledged his support for funding the school system's priorities, but he warned that the county faces a severe cut in state funding that will have an effect on the budget, parents said.

Smith, who is reviewing the school system's budget request, is scheduled to submit a proposal to the council April 16. The council can only subtract from that proposal.

Kamenetz said the council has never cut the schools budget submitted by the county executive during the nine years he has served, and "I fully expect to spend more money" next fiscal year.

Still, parents were worried that today's tight, shifting finances - state funding and other budget numbers change daily - might force the council to cut school system funding. And that prompted their request to meet with the council.

During its three years, the coalition has never asked to meet with the County Council. The PTA Council has, however, though it has usually made its request earlier.

Parents weren't sure who made the initial decision that the council couldn't meet with them - whether it was staff or council members. Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat, was planning to meet with them individually.

"They shouldn't have any fears of cuts for school funding. The council doesn't have any plans for that," he said.

"We want our elected officials to keep their word that education is their top priority," said Maggie Kennedy, coordinator of the coalition. "They're going to have to fund schools, and they're going to have to pay teachers more."

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