Schools plan back to council

Amended budget, which includes expanded IB program, must be approved by county


Now that the school board has voted to make changes to its $788 million budget, including restoring funds for a rigorous academic program at three middle schools, the spending plan will have to go back to the County Council for approval.

Chief among the board's budget adjustments is the restoration of $145,800 to begin the International Baccalaureate Middle Years program at MacArthur, Old Mill and Annapolis middle schools.

The funding would go toward planning for the program and teacher training, according to school system officials. If approved by the council, the classes would begin at the three schools in the 2007-2008 school year.

Money for the Middle Years program had been cut from the school budget three times - most recently in May - by the county. But when the school board took up the budget at its meeting last week, board members voted to fund their priority list in order, with a few changes.

Board Vice President Tricia Johnson said at the meeting that this year was the first time since the school board has presented a spending priority list to the county that the items were not funded in order. The county executive and council "jumped around," she said.

Dennis Hirsch, the school system's budget director, said that the school system learned that it would save $750,000 on employee health insurance, and that money was reallocated to some of the priority items not funded by the county. Besides funding the Middle Years program, the board added positions for elementary school guidance counselors and money for bus repairs.

"We did not add to the budget," Hirsch said. "The bottom line is the same."

The school system must notify the County Council of the budget changes withing 15 business days, Hirsch said. The council must approve changes made by the board when funds are moved from one spending category to another.

County Councilwoman Cathleen M. Vitale said the council had not received notification of the budget changes but that she anticipated seeing the board's budget in July. Of the board's changes, she said, "It happens more frequently than you might think."

Vitale would not comment on the restoration of the Middle Years funding to the budget, but Annapolis Alderman Josh Cohen, an Eastport Democrat, said he was pleased by the board's decision. Annapolis city council members had urged the school board to restore funding for the program.

"I still can't totally believe that it actually happened," Cohen said. "A lot of parents are thrilled that the board funded the Middle Years program, a program that many families, in the Annapolis area especially, are excited about.

"I hope the County Council will reaffirm the board's decision," he said.

The IB diploma program is operating at Old Mill and Annapolis high schools and will be added at Meade High School this fall.

The board also decided to trim funding for a countywide high school swimming program. Instead of providing $280,000 to begin the sport at all high schools, the board allocated $137,226, anticipating that not every high school would be ready or willing to start a swimming program this school year.

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