Schools chief talks to panel about spending

Superintendent details cost-cutting measures to dispel talk of `bloat'

He calls meeting to field queries

Advisory group warned of needed budget increase for coming fiscal year

Anne Arundel

December 09, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith told an advisory group to County Executive Janet S. Owens last night that the school system has been frugal in the areas of construction and operations, while it has made changes that will improve education.

Smith countered suggestions from members of her Spending Affordability Committee that his administration is "bloated."

"I haven't seen it yet," Smith said, noting that he has cut costs by sending dozens of teachers from central office positions back to classrooms. "The work [at the central office] is very demanding, particularly in this environment of change. The departments are lean."

It was the second time this month that Smith had an opportunity to make a pitch about how conservative the school system's spending has been and to warn of rising costs next year.

The superintendent invited the committee to the school board's headquarters in Annapolis to hear his assessment on the system's budget needs and to answer questions.

Smith told the group that the county would need to increase the budget by $20 million next year to keep up with other school systems, many of which were granted larger budget increases this year.

But Smith also told a group of parents recently that he expected to ask for $30 million more just to cover higher costs in salaries and benefits.

Smith is set to release a budget proposal next week for the fiscal year that begins in July.

The advisory committee, made up of seven citizens appointed by Owens, will make a recommendation next month on how much it believes the county should spend in fiscal year 2005.

The group examines the revenue that personal income is expected to generate, economic development in the county and the growth needs of the school system - the county budget's biggest component.

In addition to questions about staffing, committee members quizzed Smith about savings the school system has generated with a new textbook-buying program and streamlined school-building specifications.

The group also asked Smith about recent expensive repairs to leaky school roofs and the cost of a proposed magnet school for the arts.

Smith said frugality has driven his decisions in all areas, and that the magnet school idea will be postponed until fiscal conditions improve.

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