Board Backs School Budget

But County Likely To Cut Because Of Economy

December 20, 2009|By Nicole Fuller | Nicole Fuller,nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education expressed support for schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell's proposed spending and construction budgets, calling them responsible at a time of economic tumult.

Maxwell introduced the $981 million operating budget, which contains no new funding for educational programming or new staffing and will cause an increase in class sizes, and the $176 million capital budget at Wednesday night's board meeting.

Still, the budgets are likely to be downsized by County Executive John R. Leopold and the County Council, who have final say on school budgets.

Leopold officials have said the county's $93 million shortfall makes it almost certain that the county will fund schools using the state's maintenance of effort provision, which mandates just the same level of funding as the previous year.

Maxwell's proposed operating budget, a 4.8 percent increase over fiscal year 2010's approved $936 million operating budget, also delays magnet programs at three of the county's middle schools and signature programs at three high schools, as well as a biomedical health magnet program at Glen Burnie High and the Performing and Visual Arts magnet at Brooklyn Park Middle.

Board member Eugene Peterson said Maxwell's budget was "courageous."

"It's easy when you see doomsday figures, to start running [away]," Peterson said. "But he didn't do that. He represented a very austere budget."

Board member Enrique Melendez said he supports the budget measures.

"Times are tough, we all know that," Melendez said. "We cannot stop investing in our children, investing in our future. What I see I like. It's an efficient budget, working with what you have."

Maxwell, in remarks to the board, said, "It is important for those across the county to recognize the reductions we have undertaken not only to balance the budget in the current year, but to lay the groundwork for what is certain to be an equally tough upcoming fiscal year."

Maxwell noted the county's academic successes - more students taking Advanced Placement courses and exams, improvement at Annapolis High School and national achievement awards - despite a growing enrollment of 75,000 students this year.

Maxwell said he has cut 44 percent from the Office of Budget and Finance and 30 percent from the chief operating officer's account, and made significant cuts in other departments totaling $2 million.

School officials said 80 percent of the operating budget is tied to employee compensation and benefits; 14 percent is fixed costs, such as debt service, transportation and utilities; and the remaining 6 percent of the budget is variable costs, such as equipment, instruction materials and technology.

Board member Victor E. Bernson Jr. predicted that there would be further cuts and mentioned what he called undesirable options, such as layoffs, pay and benefit reductions, and furloughs.

"These numbers are unfortunately not going to be a reality," Bernson said.

School system employees were furloughed this year for between one and four days. The $7.5 million saved from the furlough days was added to the proposed budget, but Maxwell said he was unsure if another round of furloughs would happen.

County budget officer John R. Hammond said the county is grappling with a $93 million budget shortfall and the "realistic best" level that County Executive John R. Leopold can fund the school system is the state's maintenance-of-effort provision, which requires funding at the same level as the previous year.

Maxwell also introduced the $176 million capital budget, containing about $129 million for 13 major construction projects, including open space classroom enclosures, kindergarten additions and science laboratory modernizations.

About 57 percent of the proposed capital budget funds the study design or construction at 16 schools. Leopold refused to fund eight of those schools last year, so Maxwell added them to this year's budget.

The eight elementary schools are Annapolis, Benfield, Crofton, Lothian, Mills-Parole, Rolling Mills, West Annapolis and Phoenix Annapolis.

The school board plans public hearings on both budgets next month.

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