Arundel school board leaves cuts to county

Adopted budget conforms to superintendent's wishes

February 17, 2005|By Liz F. Kay | Liz F. Kay,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school board members yesterday left decisions about possible budget cuts to county officials, adopting a budget that largely conformed to Superintendent Eric J. Smith's recommended spending plan for the next fiscal year.

A year after the school board reduced Smith's request in order to meet spending targets set by county leaders, board members unanimously approved a $735.9 million operating budget that county officials said they couldn't afford.

"We came up with a bottom line we know we're not going to get," board member Paul G. Rudolph said after the meeting.

The decision follows weeks of statements by parents at public meetings urging the board to "fully fund" the budget as proposed so that county officials understand the growing needs of the school system. A majority of board members last year had taken the approach that they - not county officials - were better equipped to set priorities.

But yesterday the board voted 4-3 not to forward a priority list to County Executive Janet S. Owens.

Yesterday's action troubled Owens, who will begin reviewing the school budget proposal next month.

The budget request includes several new initiatives recommended by Smith, including math and reading intervention programs, additional money for teacher classroom supplies and more middle school foreign language teachers.

The total school budget recommended yesterday represents a 10 percent increase over last year's approved total. The county government's contribution to the school system budget would be nearly $49 million - 11 percent more than last year.

Board members debated several additions to Smith's budget but approved only two: $408,000 for the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program, which prepares students for college; and about $490,000 for 10 mentor teachers to nurture new instructors. They cut $100,000 that was earmarked to televise board meetings.

Board members also approved a $79.7 million capital budget, adding $50,000 for a study to determine the future of the Freetown Elementary School building and $500,000 for new auditorium seats for two high schools.

Owens, who will receive the budget March 1, can cut funding for schools as she develops a total spending plan for the county. Owens presents her budget in May to County Council members, who also can shift or reduce the amount for schools before approving the budget by its June 1 deadline. Then the school board readjusts its budget based on the allocation.

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