Groups make budget plea

Agencies, residents say funding for schools, nonprofits is insufficient

May 11, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,SUN REPORTER

Anne Arundel students will face larger classes, longer walks to school and a dearth of extracurricular activities if the county council approves County Executive John R. Leopold's budget, school officials warned yesterday.

Their pleas came a day after more than 700 people filled an auditorium at Old Mill High School to share emotional pleas to restore funding for education and nonprofits.

Leopold's $1.44 billion proposal, which slashed $3.1 million from dozens of nonprofits, has spawned a grass-roots alliance of 50 agencies that are fighting back with arguments that they help the county shoulder an array of social services from providing advocates to neglected children and domestic abuse survivors to transportation for the elderly.

"Reducing funding doesn't reduce the needs," said Janis Harvey, CEO of the YWCA of the Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, whose funding was slashed from $85,000 to $25,000. "We believe the full impact of the recommended cuts have not been fully realized. [The cuts] will have a devastating impact on ... our most vulnerable citizens."

The alliance enlisted the help of residents who had benefited from their services, including Annapolis attorney Jennifer C. Brienza, who 16 years ago sought aid from the YWCA as a victim of domestic abuse.

"I was a battered spouse, beaten, abused with a 10-day-old child," she told the council. "They saved my life. I would not be here without their help. And I can tell you if you cut their funding, there are lots of women out there who will not be as fortunate as I was."

Councilman Edward R. Reilly, a Crofton Republican, said he was sympathetic, but told nonprofits that this year's bleak budget proposal is just a precursor for a more troubled fiscal forecast next year.

"Maybe this is a time for organizations to start looking at their own internal structures," he said. "Take a hard look at how they run and some alternative places for funding because I don't know how long we can keep squeezing and squeezing."

The council must approve a budget by May 31.

School officials said they were frustrated by Leopold's 8 percent increase in school funding, instead of the 17 percent they sought. He funded 213 new school positions, a negotiated 6 percent raise for teachers and an unanticipated 6 percent pay increase for principals.

But he recommended the school system trim 3.5 percent from its administrative costs, as Anne Arundel braces for a decline in state aid while facing a school maintenance backlog and infrastructure improvements around Fort Meade.

"This budget has been described as an effort to tighten the belt in Anne Arundel County government," Tricia Johnson, school board president, said at a meeting yesterday with council members. "I want you to know however that when it comes to the school system, this is not simply a belt tightening. It's malnourishment."

Eugene Peterson, the board vice president, has said that if adequate funding isn't provided, schools will have to focus solely on classroom instruction, and students will have to pay out of pocket for extracurricular activities and clubs.

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell and Johnson have said the transportation budget may be raided to fund other areas, forcing the district to increase walking distances and cut bus routes.

Officials also said class sizes could increase because Leopold's funding for new teachers and classroom support staff fell short.

School officials pushed the council for $45.6 million more for 38 new security officers, full-day kindergarten and pre-K, and various construction projects, including new schools for the thousands of new families expected to arrive with the expansion at Fort Meade.

Yesterday, Councilwoman Cathleen Vitale, a Severna Park Republican, chastised school officials for putting the council in a "tough spot" and said she wished they had spoken with council members more about their funding priorities.

Maxwell said, "The phone works both ways. I had no way of knowing you had questions, or if there were information you had not received."

School officials built their defense Wednesday night, with several students promoting at-risk programs that had benefited them, and high school counselors telling County Council members that they could help more families if the council funds the $1.2 million needed for 19

The County Council's final hearing on the proposed budget will be at 7 p.m. Monday at the Arundel Center, 44 Calvert St., Annapolis.

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