In the letter — While the Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved capital and operating budgets totaling $693.5 million, some members were privately unhappy with a letter from the county executive that criticized their handling of a construction plan for Mount Hebron High School.
In the letter -- addressed to the Board of Education and Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin -- County Executive Ken Ulman contended that the board "did not act responsibly" when it dealt with the aging school's budgetary needs.
The two-page letter said Ulman repeatedly asked the board to amend its original budget request to include additional planning money for Mount Hebron after it decided in March to delay a decision on construction at the school.
Originally, the superintendent wanted the board to approve $18.9 million in funding to begin construction on a $49.8 million plan that would include mechanical upgrades, full systemic renovations and an expansion of the school's art, athletic and administrative offices. But some parents and teachers opposed that plan, saying a new school should be built.
After the public outcry, the board decided to wait to make a construction decision until the completion of a facilities study at Mount Hebron and three other high schools built about the same time.
When Ulman learned of the board's plan to delay a decision, he removed the $18.9 million slated for the construction project from the fiscal 2008 capital budget.
"I found myself in the rather unique position of being lobbied by the Mount Hebron community not to fund the renovations being proposed by the school system," Ulman wrote in the letter.
Board members said they never asked that the money to be removed from the budget.
"We never did that," said board Chairman Diane Mikulis. "I pulled the minutes. We didn't include anything on funding."
Ulman said Friday that private conversations he had with board members differed from what they said during public meetings, which left him with mixed messages.
"They left me in a very tenuous position," Ulman said. "Because they had not made up their mind, they ... left me having to read the tea leaves. ... I believe their inaction confused people."
In the letter, Ulman chided the school board for a "lack of consistency in dealing with your capital budget request for Mount Hebron renovations."
The County Council on Wednesday approved the school system's budget, which included $1.2 million that Ulman had added for planning at Mount Hebron.
"I was surprised" by Ulman's letter, Mikulis said. "This [Mount Hebron] was a different situation than we've faced in the past. It was kind of a first time."
Mikulis said that the board did not amend the budget because it was also sent to the state for review. Board members wanted to wait until after the budgets were approved until making any amendments, she said.
"The budget was already down the road," Mikulis said.
Board member Ellen Flynn Giles, who has been active in the school system for decades, said she has never seen a school board amend a budget during the approval process.
"You usually don't file an amendment while it is pending on the local and the state level," she said.
And Ulman's letter?
"That's a little harsh," Giles said.
Mikulis sent Ulman a letter in response, thanking him for sharing his concerns about the board's handling of Mount Hebron. "We are hopeful that next year's budget process will go more smoothly," the chairman's letter reads. "The Board looks forward to a cooperative relationship with you."
After the school board approved the operating and capital budgets Thursday night, Mikulis said: `The bottom line is it worked out fine."
Ulman said he looks forward to working with the school board. "I think we will have a great relationship moving forward; I think we have a great relationship now," he said Friday.
He added: "I needed to clarify my position on the [Mount Hebron] matter."