The Anne Arundel County school board delayed a final vote yesterday on an operating budget that goes into effect July 1, saying it needs more time to evaluate a legal concern raised by the county auditor over $3.5 million that Superintendent Eric J. Smith wants to add to the budget for programs and initiatives.
"It's about making sure we have all the facts," board member Edward P. Carey said during a break in the meeting.
Carey and other board members said they were hoping to satisfy some of Smith's requests without running afoul of a little-known state law that governs the budget process.
"To me, it's the mechanics of it all," he said.
Smith has proposed paying for the extra items using a surplus from the 2002-2003 school year. They include the hiring of gifted-instruction specialists and the continuance of extra funding for several high-poverty schools.
Smith conceived the plan after the school board trimmed his spending request by more than $7 million in February, funds that would have paid for certain unavoidable expenses and optional initiatives.
But county auditor Teresa Sutherland objected. Sutherland said last week that she had discovered a state law that requires that the school system's surplus be considered part of the county's revenue stream during budget deliberations. When the County Council approved a $665.4 million school budget last month, it did not know the surplus could be considered a source of revenue.
The school board will take up the matter at a special budget session Tuesday. Its deadline to approve a budget is June 30.
A number of council members were unavailable for comment yesterday.
One, however, did not disagree with the notion that the school system should be able to use its surplus funds.
"If they manage well and have a surplus, so be it," said Councilwoman Pamela G. Beidle, a Linthicum Democrat.
But Beidle said the council might be required to have oversight of the surplus.
"If the law says we need to approve that spending, then we need to follow the law," Beidle said.
Sun staff writer Childs Walker contributed to this article.