Schools budget faces cuts

Superintendent to give board a priority list of system's needs

February 23, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

Charter school expansion, technology and long-sought building repairs are likely to be among the first on the chopping block when the Anne Arundel county executive and County Council make the cuts they have vowed to the school system's $133 million budget increase.

The county school board has approved and forwarded to County Executive John R. Leopold the superintendent's $920 million budget for next school year - without one item lopped off.

School officials are hoping county officials will raise a local income tax to increase revenue, rather than trim the school's budget. County officials have balked at the idea since it emerged last month, and nothing has changed.

"The 17 percent school board budget [increase] is not acceptable ... I will reduce that budget," Leopold said this week, in the clearest statement yet that the schools budget will not be intact when it leaves his desk and returns to the board of education in May.

While he cannot cut individual programs, Leopold is empowered to come up with a dollar figure that the school system has to live on.

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell has provided guidelines on where to begin chopping, in the form of a priority list of 88 items totaling $58.6 million prepared for the school board on Wednesday.

What he least wants to cut is $1.2 million for 19 registrars and counselors that he said will allow high school guidance counselors more time to work on college preparatory matters. His request for more pupil personnel workers and security officers are a close second and third.

Maintenance and technology are toward the bottom. Rounding out the list is a $6.3 million allocation, most of it to staff two unapproved charter schools.

Board members have used similar priority lists when cuts have been necessary in the past. And the cuts have traditionally come from the bottom.

Despite county officials' warnings, Maxwell said it was not his job to reduce a budget that he said was a reflection of the system's needs.

"One of the things that no one seems to want to talk about is that we have been underfunded for years. We need an infusion of cash. That's my position," Maxwell said.

His reasoning frustrated the board's two fiscal conservatives, Victor E. Bernson Jr. and Michael G. Leahy. They were in the minority in the 6-2 vote for the budget.

Leahy tried to push the superintendent and fellow board members to consider a "zero-based" budget, which would require the school system to justify the need for every program, every expense so that officials could toss out ineffective programs and beef up others based on modern needs. But Leahy's effort was fruitless.

The superintendent didn't appear to support the idea, and neither did other board members, six of whom shot down Leahy's "zero-basing" budget idea.

"What you're basically saying is ... . `We've looked at everything and everything is appropriate,' and I find that hard to believe," Leahy said.

Bernson said he could not approve the budget "in good conscience."

"It raises false hopes," he said. "To forward a budget like this in its entirety seeking all this money for new positions ... it makes people think they're going to get all this money. At the end of the day, it's unrealistic. We know it's going to get cut, and hopes will be dashed when these positions don't materialize." Board vice president Eugene Peterson, however, called Maxwell's budget request "courageous." Board member Enrique Melendez said that the call for cuts underscores a skewed sense of priorities in a society that "spends more on incarceration than the education of our children."

Sun reporter Phillip McGowan contributed to this article.

Maxwell's list

Of the $133 million boost the schools are seeking, Superintendent Kevin Maxwell identified $58.6 million in requests that the school board could consider for cuts this spring. He ranked those requests one to 88, No. 1 being what he least wants to cut.

Top 5

19.5 registrars and counselors - $1.2 million

14 pupil personnel workers - $1.2 million

38 school security officers - $2.5 million

12 high school test coordinators - $660,792

10 middle school teachers - $548,160

Bottom 5

Charter school spending (a bulk of it for staffing costs and student needs at two unapproved charter schools) - $6.3 million

One North County resource technician - $45,370

Supplemental retirement plans - $800,000

Laptops for teachers - $649,215

Special Education lawyer and office staff - $149,960

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