Arundel schools superintendent's budget prompts optimism, concerns

December 17, 2010|By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Board of Education President Patricia Nalley says she is "happy" with Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's $969 million operating budget recommendation, which calls for a $37.5 million increase over last year.

After hearing Maxwell outline the budget at Wednesday night's board meeting, Nalley said that she was confident that the board and county executives will work together on funding the budget to keep the school system on its "journey from good to great."

Yet Nalley's optimism comes as county budget officer John Hammond, who on Thursday afternoon said he has seen "a rough outline" of the proposal, repeated earlier comments that the county will give the school system no more than a $5.6 million maintenance-of-effort increase over last year.

"The county has a very difficult budget year coming up in 2012," Hammond said, "and as a consequence, we're asking all of the departments, when they formulate their budget, to look at reductions. We just don't have the incremental revenue that would allow us to do things that folks would like us to do.

"But when it comes to the Board of Education, the state has a maintenance-of-effort requirement that says that you have to maintain a certain level of funding," Hammond added.

The General Assembly's maintenance-of-effort requirements state that counties must appropriate operating budget funds on a per-pupil basis for local K-12 schools in an amount no less than the per-pupil amount of the previous year.

"Given the county's revenue outlook, that's the best we're going to be able to do, if we can even do that," Hammond said, referring to the $5.6 million figure.

Hammond added that other jurisdictions in the state are following suit in tough economic times. "I don't know anybody that's talking about exceeding maintenance of effort," he said.

And Hammond said that what struck him about Maxwell's proposal is that it includes only a six-figure increase in state funding (about $800,000) over the previous year while requesting $34,651,673 more from the county over last year. County funds account for nearly two-thirds of the recommended budget.

Asked if the county would be able to comply with Maxwell's request, Hammond replied, "Something about blood and rocks."

But the schools' chief operating officer, Alex Szachnowicz, said that county funds make up the lion's share of the budget because the county is the only provider from which the system can request funding.

"The funding from the state is very rigid and formula-driven," Szachnowicz said. "The state notifies us by formula what we are due. That is analogous to what happens at the federal level. We do not request the federal government for funding. They essentially notify us, in a formulaic-driven fashion, what amount we will be sent from Washington. The only appropriation authority that we ask funding for is the county government.

"When a budget is crafted, we devise the budget, we [deduct] what we're going to receive from the federal government. We [deduct] what we are going to receive from the state government by formula. The balance of our needs are our formal request from the county government."

In presenting his $969 million recommendation at Wednesday night's board meeting, Maxwell said that it included $1.34 million to hire 20 school-based mentor teacher positions required by Maryland State Department of Education regulations to meet federal Race to the Top initiatives.

It also includes $2.3 million to cover expansion at the county's two charter schools: Chesapeake Science Point, which will add a 10th grade; and Monarch Academy, which will add third and seventh grades.

When asked about the maintenance-of-effort figure, Nalley said that she believes the new County Council and the public will work with the school board to do what is in the best interests of the county's students.

"And I feel good about it. I feel that these elected officials will bring in a new spirit," said Nalley.

The school system will hold two public hearings on the budget in January. The County Council must approve the budget by June.

While delivering his budget recommendations, Maxwell spoke of the school system's highlights and concerns. He praised the International Baccalaureate, STEM and Performing and Visual Arts magnet programs for garnering national acclaim, and he said that the system will share its model with schools across the country at the 2011 Leadership for Equity and Excellence Forum in Phoenix.

Maxwell added that outside of mentor teachers the school system is required to hire, it will not increase its general fund positions for the third consecutive year. "I am fully aware of the stress this adds to our system," Maxwell said, "but I have faith in the abilities of our employees to continue to weather this storm."

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