Arundel officials agree on school budget goals

December 19, 2008|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold vowed yesterday to work with schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell to fund the school chief's proposed budget - which officials said includes the smallest spending increase in a decade.

Though Leopold cautioned that Maxwell's $997 million proposal, which avoids drastic measures such as layoffs or school closings, has "no guarantee" of passing, he said it is "consistent with my own budget priorities."

"I appreciate the superintendent's clear-eyed understanding of the harsh fiscal realities we all face," Leopold said.

Maxwell, who publicly sparred with Leopold and the County Council during last year's budget process, said yesterday that he had many conversations with the county executive, resulting in a "greater understanding on both sides."

The superintendent's proposal does not include any new positions or raises for his 60-member executive and senior staff. A majority of the $46.1 million in new funding is tied to fixed costs such as utilities, health insurance premiums, debt service and the full funding of pre-negotiated union contracts, according to school officials.

But $1.7 million has been budgeted for magnet programs: STEM programs at South River and North County high schools and a performing and visual arts program at Bates Middle School.

Maxwell sees those initiatives as important to providing school choice for public school students, and Leopold said they will help provide trained workers for a projected 60,000 new jobs that will come to the state with the BRAC realignment.

"We are not immune to the downturn, and we have crafted this budget with that in mind," Maxwell told the school board during his budget presentation on Wednesday night. Claiming various successes during his tenure, he said, "I do not intend for a minute to let tough economic times curtail that progress."

The school board must pass a version of the proposal by Feb. 20. Public hearings on the proposed operating and $214 million capital budgets, are set for 7 p.m., Jan. 13 at Glen Burnie High and Jan. 15 at the department headquarters on Riva Road in Annapolis.

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