Schools seek big raise

Promised teacher pay boost paces $100 million increase plan

December 21, 2007|By Ruma Kumar | Ruma Kumar,sun reporter

The Anne Arundel County school system is seeking a nearly $100 million increase in its operating budget, largely because of promised salary hikes for teachers, administrators and support staff, even as county government officials decry an austere budget season that could force sharp cuts in every county department.

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell shared his recommended $969 million operating budget and discussed the system's $189 million capital budget for school construction, maintenance and improvements, which the board approved in September.

Negotiated salary and benefit hikes make up about $72 million of the increase -- a hefty chunk that Maxwell said is necessary for the school system to be able to recruit and retain qualified teachers and administrators.

A recent study showed Anne Arundel schools lose about one in 10 teachers every year, half of them leaving within five years of being hired. More principals and assistant principals are also leaving the school system, and last year more than a dozen administrators resigned to seek better pay elsewhere.

"Excellence costs money," Maxwell said. "Anne Arundel is one of the wealthiest counties in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation ... how we fund our school system, how we invest in our children, lays the foundation for the quality of life everyone in this county enjoys."

Maxwell's talk Wednesday came just a day after County Executive John R. Leopold spent a morning discussing the fiscal situation with the county's members of the House of Delegates. Cuts in state education aid and a sluggish housing market will amount to about a $20 million loss in revenue for the county this year, Leopold said.

Given that reality, the schools budget is "an ambitious request in difficult fiscal times," Leopold said yesterday. "It's important that we prioritize classroom instruction. That's why I've committed to paying 6 percent raises for teachers for next year ... and raises for principals."

But he added, "a budget should be a document that ensures that projected expenses are based on projected revenues. I've told the superintendent to try to work within the parameters of affordability."

Despite that advice, Leopold said he's not sure why Maxwell has asked for such a marked increase this year. Last year, the school system requested a $102 million increase in county funds.

This year, $88 million of the total $100 million increase the system seeks would come from the county. The county is expecting $45 million in extra revenue, but if Leopold stays true to his support for teacher raises, they will cost the county about $51 million.

Leopold's discussion of the raises' impact on county funding this week prompted Republican Del. Steve Schuh to question the need for the 6 percent teacher raises.

"This would be the third 6 percent raise teachers have gotten," Schuh said. "It makes me question the wisdom of negotiating 6 percent pay hikes at a time when the economy is slowing down and we have a 1, maybe 2 percent inflation rate."

Last year, the school's budget request sparked an acrimonious battle between school officials, Leopold and council members.

Since then, the school systemand county have vowed to talk more openly about spending and even had a joint meeting to discuss the budget process in September.

But since then, Maxwell said he has had only "brief, not in-depth" conversations with the county's administration and renewed his concerns over the lack of contact with Leopold.

"I don't think the level of dialogue that's taking place right now is going to get this county what it needs in terms of having a high level school system," Maxwell said Wednesday.

The school system's budget director, Susan Bowen, said every department was forced to "justify every dime." Maxwell received 90 requests for new positions or programs, totaling $46 million from his department heads. He whittled that down to 28 requests totaling $13 million.

As part of that $13 million, the schools chief is seeking $3 million to expand a special education program that he says has been understaffed for years. He is seeking $505,000 for school secretaries and $558,000 for pre-kindergarten teachers. The remaining $9.8 million is needed to address the rising utilities costs, transportation and debt.

Maxwell is hoping the investment in special education will pay dividends in the system's progress under No Child Left Behind. Academic performance among special needs children has been an Achilles heel at many Arundel schools such as Annapolis High, which faces sanctions if it doesn't improve its reading scores among special education students, minorities and low-income groups.

ruma.kumar@baltsun.com

proposed school budget

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell proposed a $969 million operating budget and $189 million capital budget at a school board meeting this week.

In his operating request, he is asking for nearly $100 million more than what the district received last year. Here's how that increase breaks down:

$71.8 million: salary raises and benefits negotiated for teachers, administrators and support staff.

$9.8 million: inflationary increases for expenses such as utilities, transportation and debt service.

$13.4 million: new programs and positions, including $3 million for 44 special education teachers, aides and occupational/physical therapists.

[Source: Anne Arundel County Public Schools]

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