Smith offers school budget

Superintendent seeks 9.5 percent increase in funding for fiscal year '06

December 16, 2004|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

The Anne Arundel County schools superintendent proposed yesterday a $773.1 million operating budget for the coming school year that includes the largest percentage increase in four years - needed, he said, to move forward with initiatives that have already begun.

Superintendent Eric J. Smith's projected total budget for fiscal 2006 - a 9.5 percent increase over this year - received a number of questions from school board members at their meeting last night. He also presented a tentative $79.9 million capital budget plan.

For three years, requested budget increases have run about 6 percent, despite increased costs for programs, staffing and salaries, Smith said. However, the district can't continue to improve at that level, he said.

"We have stretched the operation of Anne Arundel County schools to its limit," Smith said. "We have been able to do more with less on an annual basis."

Almost half of Smith's nearly $64 million proposed increase will fund scheduled increases to salaries and benefits. In addition, the budget provides for hiring 168 additional teaching positions, including 53 kindergarten teachers and 27 assistants to meet the state's mandate for all-day kindergarten.

Other required additions to the budget include $1.7 million to fund three charter schools that have expressed interest in opening by fall.

"We don't close a school because three schools are opening," said Dennis Hirsch, the school system's budget director.

Last year, county officials eventually approved an operating budget of $669 million for this school year. The proposed school budget for the fiscal year that start in July calls for an additional $45.9 million in county funds. If approved unchanged, the county would pay about 66 percent of the total school budget.

County spokeswoman Jody Couser said county officials are "obviously very concerned" about the fiscal situation of the state and its effect on the county.

The superintendent said his proposal includes a number of requests designed to reduce teacher workload. For example, he hopes to hire 48 additional high school teachers to decrease class sizes from an average of 32 students to about 30.

The superintendent also is proposing $312,000 for electronic grade reporting for elementary schools. Nancy Mann, assistant superintendent for instructional services, said teachers for years have asked to replace the current pencil-and-paper method.

Another request is the first phase of a program to help students in all grades with academic needs. He asked for two math intervention positions and 21 for reading intervention.

Also included in the proposed budget are:

$747,000 for the final third of the "Talent Development" program for 10,000 students in 26 elementary schools;

$325,000 to establish "Middle Years," a rigorous International Baccalaureate program at Annapolis Middle School and Old Mill Middle North;

$163,000 for the International Baccalaureate program at Old Mill and Annapolis high schools.

$100 in additional classroom supplies for each of 6,000 teachers.

As part of the superintendent's directive for community collaboration, he proposes spending $175,000 more on the public information office and $100,000 to broadcast school board meetings on the county's public-access cable channel.

Other items he would like funded include three additional teachers for music and mathematics classes in middle schools; three teachers for schools that fail to meet the state's annual progress targets; five foreign language teachers and a "summer prep" academy to help students pass the state's High School Assessments.

Smith also would like to add 13 full-time and one part-time staff members for student support services in a variety of programs, including Infant and Toddlers, early childhood intervention, speech pathology, home-schooling and behavior support.

A number of the superintendent's past efforts are not included in the plan, however.

The district won't be picking up the tab for Advanced Placement exams in high school, nor will it expand alternative education programs. Facilities and maintenance continue to be underfunded, according to Smith. The school painting cycle has increased from nine to 11 years.

Board member Michael J. McNelly asked the superintendent for more information about positions created in the budget that are subject to board approval and about salary and benefit increases.

Board members will hear testimony on the budget at hearings at 7 p.m. Jan. 11 at Glen Burnie High School and 7 p.m. Jan. 13 at the board's central offices on Riva Road. The board will vote on the budget Feb. 16.

Budget materials will be available on the school system's Web site, at its central offices and at county libraries.

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