Tensions between Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold and the school system over funding have been well documented, but Leopold's recent comments at a meeting with residents appear to have further strained the already contentious relationship.
Leopold met with residents of the Green Haven community in Pasadena after two teens were charged in the fatal shooting Oct. 13 of a 21-year-old man outside a house party in the area.
According to Patch.com, Leopold spoke about increasing police presence in Green Haven as well as other parts of the county. But Leopold was quoted as saying the school board, which accounts for more than half of the county's budget, "is squeezing the oxygen out of all of the other departments of county government."
When asked about the comment during an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Leopold acknowledged mentioning the school board during the meeting. And though he said he does not believe the school funding issues directly affected the county's ability to respond to the shooting in Pasadena, he said that funding schools has indeed squeezed other departments.
"I wish I had more resources for more police officers on the beat. And it's been proven that when there is an increased police, presence it does make a difference," he said.
In response to Leopold's comments, Anne Arundel schools spokesman Bob Mosier said, "The county executive's comments at the Green Haven meeting were clearly intended to pit schools versus police. They were outrageous, misguided, irresponsible and did a disservice not only to school system employees, but to police and other hardworking county employees as well."
Leopold's comments come amid several high-profile disputes between the school system and county government. Most recently, county lawmakers and school leaders fought over $5 million that the county owed to the school system under Maryland's maintenance-of-effort law. One lawmaker had said the council was "at war" with the school system. The County Council voted just weeks ago to give the money to the schools.
Leopold said that the central point he tried to make during the community discussion was that "we've seen situations where, in county government, I've had to have furloughs for county employees while the school board gives its employees pay raises. The essential point is that the school board must recognize that they are a part of county government. They're not an agency separate and apart from county government."
Mosier disputed Leopold's characterization of the school system.
"The school system is, in fact, not a county department or agency. It is, by law, an agent of the state and not the county," he said. "This, however, is not about the school system versus the county. It is about a county executive who would rather control the school system than collaborate with it, and who has the ability but not the courage or the will to fix the very issue he bemoans."
Mosier also pointed out that in 2009, the school system did not give raises to its employees and had to cut positions during a time when Leopold approved raises for county employees.
Leopold said that in the past 20 years, the school budget has gone from 40 percent of the general budget to 52 percent.
"Since it's gone from 40 [percent] to 52 percent of the budget, other important priorities of county government have been squeezed — public safety, public health, economic development, aging and disabilities, recreation and parks," he said.
He added, "When you can hire more police officers, repair more roads, provide more assistance to senior citizens … when you can put more resources in those budgets, it makes a difference in the quality of life in each of those departments."
To that, Mosier said, "The same is true of the school system and the education of children, but the county executive remains blind to that benefit."
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