School budget approved

Board OKs proposal that includes teacher contract, swimming program

March 03, 2006|By ANICA BUTLER | ANICA BUTLER,SUN REPORTER

The $801.7 million budget adopted by the Anne Arundel County Board of Education this week provides money to fund a tentative three-year agreement with the teachers union, ease workloads and start a high school swimming program.

"This was very simple and easy," board President Konrad Wayson said of the budget adoption process.

The six board members at Wednesday's meeting adopted the budget unanimously with no discussion.

The board did not have to spend time choosing spending priorities, Wayson said, because interim Superintendent Nancy M. Mann had already provided a list.

"Am I in agreement with every line item? No," Wayson said. But "there's no sense in debating whether something should be 50 rather than 62."

He added: "We've already been told it's not going be fully funded anyway."

The board's budget goes to County Executive Janet S. Owens, who will present her budget proposal to the County Council on May 1. Owens can cut the school budget before adding it to her own spending proposal.

Owens was not available for comment yesterday but has previously called Mann's $798 million budget proposal more realistic than past years' plans.

On Wednesday, Mann adjusted her spending plan upward to more than $801 million. In the adjustments, Mann included $280,000 to begin a varsity swimming program in county high schools.

Thirty or so swimmers, their parents and coaches had crowded a board meeting in December to ask the board to add swimming to the list of high school sports.

"I think it's great," said Bob Gicquelais, a Severna Park parent who advocated for the program. "I think it's going to do a lot for the public school kids. ... A lot of kids who swim in the summer can now continue in the winter."

On Wednesday, board members praised Mann for being responsive to the community when creating her budget and making adjustments to it.

The adjustments also include the removal of $200,000 for a chief operating officer - which was recommended in a school system audit but Mann said is no longer needed - and $1.6 million from the charter school budget.

The allotment for charter schools was reduced based on lowered enrollment projections for next year.

Mann also added $3.1 million to fund a tentative contract with the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, bringing the total for employee compensation to about $27 million.

The three-year contract would provide a 6 percent across-the-the-board increase in salaries for each of the next three fiscal years and would modify the step scale used to calculate salary increases.

Wayson said that the contract negotiations this year also have been easier than in the past.

"This has been a good negotiation with a historic agreement - a three-year teacher contract," Wayson said. "Is it expensive? Yes. But in order to get the highly qualified teachers we need we must be competitive with surrounding counties.

"We're not at the top of the list but this makes us more competitive than we've been," he said.

Sheila Finlayson, president of the teachers association, was not available to comment yesterday.

Other items included in the budget passed by the board include nearly $52 million in fixed or mandated costs, $2.5 million to reduce class sizes in middle schools and money to televise board of education meetings.

The budget also includes about $146,000 for the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program, which a group of parents has been advocating for throughout the budget process.

Debbie Ritchie, a Pasadena parent and president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, said she was surprised and pleased that the board adopted the entire budget with ease.

"It gives parents the ability to advocate for the full budget," she said. "They know what's in it and hopefully now they will go to the county executive, which is the next step."

anica.butler@baltsun.com

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