Leopold school spending proposals denounced as unnecessary

County executive and schools chief at odds over proposed legislation

February 04, 2011|By Nicole Fuller, The Baltimore Sun

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold's proposals to step up oversight of school board spending are being denounced as "unnecessary" by the county schools chief.

At a county House delegation meeting Friday morning, Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell, who has long butted heads with Leopold, spoke out against the legislation and hinted that the proposals are personally motivated. School officials said the legislation would impose rules on Anne Arundel that no other school system is required to adhere to.

The proposed legislation, in the form of two separate bills, is being discussed by the county's delegation, though no lawmakers have agreed to sponsor the bills. The first proposal would require a public hearing and a County Council vote every time the school system transfers funds from one account to another — a customary action. The other bill would require the school board to include detailed information about spending, which school officials say is already submitted to the council, in the annual budget bill.

"This is no time for personal agendas," Maxwell said to the assembled leaders. "We must work together."

Leopold and Maxwell have feuded over budget issues before, with the county executive funding schools at the minimum amount required to maintain state funding levels — a practice that has frustrated Maxwell.

Last year, Leopold proposed funding for renovations to Severna Park High School, which Maxwell criticized for deviating from a school system list of priorities.

Leopold, a Republican, calls himself "a strong advocate for public education" and disputes any political motives.

"There have been those who said this is a personal communication problem between me and Mr. Maxwell," said Leopold in an interview. "This is not about Kevin Maxwell and John Leopold. There is a serious structural problem that needs to be addressed."

The county Board of Education, a strong supporter of Maxwell, weighed in on the proposals recently, overwhelmingly opposing both bills.

Del. Ron George, a Republican from Arnold, said while he understands that "Leopold has certain frustrations," he sees the legislation as "more of a power play."

"There certainly seems that there's a battle going on here, a matter of politics," said George.

In the past three years, according to Leopold, over $25 million in funding from the school system's budget has been transferred from classroom instruction into other categories of the budget, including administration. In the past decade, those transfers have averaged $1.3 million.

"Twenty years ago, the school board budget represented 42 percent of the overall budget," said Leopold. "Now it's 52 percent. I don't think we should wait until it's 62 percent to take action. This is crying out for reform. We can't allow the school board budget to starve these other government agencies of the resources they need."

Maxwell, who became superintendent in 2006, said $24.8 million has been transferred into five instructional categories, and $2.8 million was for administrative categories. The County Council, Maxwell said, already has the ability to vote on the transfers and has voted on every transfer since he's been superintendent.

nicole.fuller@baltsun.com

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