School funding boost asked

An extra $38.7 million wanted for next year

Owens has warned of fiscal woes

Superintendent calls plan a `budget without frills'

Anne Arundel

December 18, 2003|By Laura Loh | Laura Loh,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Eric J. Smith is seeking to increase the system's spending by nearly $38.7 million to cover personnel costs and new instructional initiatives next school year, despite recent warnings from the county executive about Arundel's dim fiscal outlook.

Calling his proposal a "budget without frills," Smith said most of the increases in the $671.8 million request - a 6.1 percent increase over this fiscal year's budget - consist of unavoidable personnel costs including teacher raises and rising health insurance costs.

"This is a very critical budget for us. ... Issues around [teacher] compensation are of primary importance," he said.

Smith's request for the fiscal year that begins in July includes $29.2 million in employee-related cost increases and $9.5 million for instructional initiatives.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Anne Arundel County edition of The Sun should have stated that the number of school system pupil personnel workers was reduced by half at the beginning of this school year, and that Superintendent Eric J. Smith now has proposed cutting four more positions, which would leave 12 for the next school year. The Sun regrets the error.

The initiatives include:

A program of monetary incentives to attract high-quality teachers to low-performing schools, which will cost $323,000.

$500,000 to establish a new alternative school site for middle school pupils with discipline problems.

An expansion of the International Baccalaureate program to two middle schools, at a cost of $537,000.

$226,000 in stipends and application fees to encourage teachers to pursue a national teaching certificate.

The hiring of 48 high school teachers to ease teacher workload, at a cost of $2.2 million.

$2.8 million to establish prekindergarten at six more schools and full-day kindergarten at 13, in accordance with a state requirement.

$605,000 to place gifted-instruction specialists at 26 elementary schools.

County Executive Janet S. Owens, who recently butted heads with Smith over $1.8 million in teacher raises that the superintendent wants to give, declined yesterday afternoon to comment on the superintendent's proposal, which she had not seen.

In an address at Anne Arundel Community College this week, Owens said the county is projecting an $8 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year and could face more cuts from the state.

Once the school board approves a budget in mid-February, Owens will have an opportunity to weigh in. She will present a budget in May to the County Council that includes what she thinks should to be spent on education.

Last night, Smith noted that the school system plans to make sacrifices, including cutting in half the pupil personnel worker program, which keeps track of truant or otherwise troubled students.

Twelve of those employees, each of whom is paid about $75,000 a year, will return to classroom jobs. The program was scaled back this year, with the reassignment of eight such workers.

Smith also emphasized that he is asking for a smaller budget increase than the system has sought in previous years. And, he noted that Anne Arundel schools received a lower percentage increase this year than the average school system in Maryland.

In addition to the new instructional initiatives, Smith is seeking funds to maintain some programs that he started this fiscal year. He wants to continue buying about $11 million worth of textbooks annually, partly using operating funds, to achieve a goal of uniform textbooks.

Elementary and middle schools received new books this school year. High schools would be next in line to receive books in 13 academic subjects.

In other business, the school board heard heated testimony from more than two dozen people about the controversy surrounding Annapolis High School Principal Deborah Williams, who is accused by some of creating a hostile and racially divided school environment.

Gerald Stansbury, president of the Anne Arundel County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, criticized teachers who oppose Williams, who is black, and praised the principal's focus on raising the achievement of black students, who on average lag behind white students.

"She's at what we call the beginning stages of a renovation project," Stansbury said, drawing approving murmurs from the roughly 50 community residents who attended the meeting to support Williams. She was not present.

But several teachers testified about problems under her administration.

"I bring bad tidings about the safety of attending and working at Annapolis High," said Spanish teacher Lynn Kolarik, adding that she recently filed charges against a student for making a verbal threat and has seen a rise in violence against Hispanic students.

Leslie Stefany, a government teacher, told the board she supports closing the achievement gap between blacks and whites, but does not see it happening under Williams.

Some speakers urged Williams' opponents to give her a chance to prove herself.

Walter Holland, the father of two Annapolis High School students, asked for unity for the sake of the children.

"How can they concentrate if everybody else is not focused?" he said.

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