Proposed budget leaves schools, county council in tight spot

LETTERS

May 11, 2008

On the day County Executive John R. Leopold delivered his Fiscal Year 2009 budget to the County Council, I was privileged to participate with other education, business, government and military leaders in a forum sponsored by the Fort Meade Alliance. The forum, in part, focused on the work force needs of the business and government sectors and the ways in which school systems can meet those needs.

If Anne Arundel County Public Schools is to be a key player in preparing students to meet those needs, and if it is to be a school system that attracts families moving to this area as a result of BRAC initiatives, we must do better than the budget proposed by the county executive May 1. If our school system is to be great instead of very good, we must make the financial commitment.

As it stands, there exist gaps of $51 million in the operating budget and $52 million in the capital budget requested by our Board of Education and the budgets proposed by the county executive. He would allot just 33 percent of the increase we requested, an increase that was neither exorbitant nor outlandish.

The budget proposed by the county executive doesn't fully fund a negotiated agreement with any of our four unions. While it funds cost-of-living allowances and some other increases, our contractual and moral commitment to our employees also extends to their health benefits, Social Security and retirement costs, workers' compensation and other related benefits. Those aren't fully funded, and let me be clear: I will not recommend anything but full funding of the agreements that have been negotiated in good faith.

I have great faith that the County Council -- with whom we met for four-plus productive hours recently -- will do all it can to restore as much of our needed funding as possible. I am sympathetic to the tough position the council finds itself in, however, because at this point it must take from Peter to pay Paul.

What's at stake for our school system, quite simply, is the ability to attract a quality work force, to increase the quality of programs and resources for our students, and, frankly, to move closer to being the state's best school system. Without a significant infusion of funds, the impact will be deep. How deep? Consider that Howard County is discussing cuts in the number of teachers it will hire because its budget was underfunded by $4 million. Ours was underfunded by nearly 13 times that.

Among the very real scenarios here:

The 50 teaching positions vacant this year and the 150 announced in March for next year won't return.

In addition to the 50 nonclassroom and central office positions cut this year, about 100 more will be eliminated. Some will come from schools and further impact student services, support to teachers, and employees.

Parents seeking help for children in special education may not be able to get timely critical services because the county executive did not fund a single additional special education position needed to meet state and federal mandates. It costs far more to deliver compensatory services and pay for legal fees due to noncompliance in special education than it does to do what is right for children in the first place and have staff on board to meet their needs.

There will be no increase in services available to students in our ever-growing English as a Second Language program because none of the four additional positions we requested were funded.

We will have to pull staffing from other schools and assign them to the new Gambrills Area Elementary School because the county executive inexplicably funded only a principal, one secretary and one custodian, just three of the 15.1 positions we need to properly staff the school. We'll need an additional $600,000 to fully staff the school and properly educate those students.

Schools like Annapolis, Belle Grove, Folger McKinsey, Germantown and Point Pleasant elementary schools, and Phoenix Annapolis will wait even longer for much-needed renovations because $24.8 million in feasibility studies and design efforts went unfunded. Without this funding, we can't fully leverage state dollars likely to be available for our jurisdiction.

Students in open space schools will continue to suffer because the $5 million request for walls and partitions was reduced to zero.

I believe the County Council will do what it can. We will work collaboratively with them and continue to do what we can. Should they be unable to restore significant funding, though, there will be no area of the school system that is not impacted by cuts. Every cut will, unfortunately, be felt by the children of Anne Arundel County, and ultimately will affect the quality of living for everyone in this county. We must do better. We must do the right thing.

Kevin M. Maxwell Superintendent of schools

Writers should reveal affiliations to Republican central committee

I noticed that Erik Robey and Victor Henderson, two of three letter writers [on May 4], failed to acknowledge their respective affiliations to the Anne Arundel County Republican Central Committee. I would hope that, as they continue their letter writing campaign in support of the county executive, that their affiliation will be clearly and duly noted in future editions.

Nancy Connelly Krashoc Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee

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