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School Board Passes Budget By 'Spreading the Pain'

School board members patched a $6.2 million hole in their budget on Wednesday with a few cuts, but kept teachers out of harm's way.

Anne Arundel County Schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell said he had to “spread the pain” around the school system in order to balance , but didn't have to lay anyone off.

The school board adopted its fiscal year 2012 budget on Wednesday after making last-minute cuts to recoup the county council doling out $6.2 million less than last year.

“My intention with this budget was to spread the pain around so that no one part of our school system suffered any more than others,” Maxwell said. “We are in a position where we have to cut things that heretofore we would have preferred not to.”

The school system’s operating budget—used to cover salaries, programming and day-to-day expenses—weighed in at $936.8 million, which includes $556.1 million in local funding from the county council. The capital budget, used for construction and long-range projects, was $116.5 million.  

In June 2010, the school board approved $931.3 million operating and $123.5 million capital budgets for fiscal year 2011.

The 2012 budgets were both passed by an 8-1 vote, with Board Member Vic Bernson Jr. dissenting.

To balance the operating budget, 26 positions were cut, though salaries were untouched and no furlough days were mandated. There were no layoffs, but some job roles were shifted around to fill gaps, Maxwell said. More than $1.2 million in health care benefits were also cut out.

“All of these cuts … are about eliminating programs, but not people,” said Board Member Deborah Ritchie. “We’re really trying to maintain the staffing that we have to ensure that we can continue to offer the quality education that we’re providing.”

But Board Member Eugene Peterson said they would have to come up with new budget tricks next year. He described this year’s financial solutions as “pulling a rabbit from a hat.”

“Next year, there are no rabbits left in this hat,” Peterson said. “This is the last possible year we can shift around and do things without doing one of two things—a lot of furlough days or pink slips.”

Maxwell said about 1,000 new students are estimated to arrive in the coming school year. Adding to the roughly 2,000 students that have been added to the system over the past two years, Maxwell said now should be the time that the system adds additional faculty to keep classroom sizes up to snuff. But the budget’s restrictions kept him from that goal.

To meet those needs, about 28 positions from the administrative offices will be reallocated into teaching positions distributed throughout the school system. These teachers include those whose previous jobs were designing curriculum for the school system and serving other ancillary roles.

Maxwell stressed that this was a non-budgetary action, and even held his briefing on the matter until after the budget vote, as it required no additional funding to accomplish.

School Renovations in 2012

The funds in the capital budget provide for construction design and renovation work at several schools throughout the system. But some projects were pushed back for future budgets.

Renovation work will continue this year at Belle Grove Elementary School, Folger McKinsey Elementary School, Point Pleasant Elementary School and Northeast High School. Modernization at Phoenix Annapolis will also begin this year.

Design work will begin this year for renovations at Lothian Elementary School, Crofton Elementary School, Rolling Knolls Elementary School, Benfield Elementary School and Mills-Parole Elementary School.

Construction for the Severna Park High School replacement was postponed until 2014. But $3.5 million in designs for the school will be paid for this year.  The project’s time line was pushed back after the county cut into the original capital budget.

A revitalization of Annapolis Elementary School was also left out of this year’s capital budget, but the school system’s six-year plan indicates it will be picked back up in 2013.

MOE Battle Continues

Maxwell stood his ground Wednesday, saying that the county had not paid the school system the minimum amount as required by the state, known as the .

However, County Executive John Leopold has said that requirement was met by allocating $50 million in debt repayment in the school system's capital budget. Maxwell said there’s no precedent for that logic.

“The county did not meet maintenance-of-effort requirements as we understand the law,” Maxwell said.

If the state decides later this year that the maintenance of effort has not been met, they could remove money in state aid from the school system, creating a $9.5 million budget hole. However, that penalty wouldn’t be doled out until the next fiscal year, which gives the school board some time to appeal the state’s decision through the General Assembly and ask for a waiver.

Bernson Exits with Budget Criticism

The lone dissenting vote in both budget votes Wednesday was from Vic Bernson Jr. during the final moments of his last meeting as a school board member. His term ends this fiscal year, and he has chosen not to seek another term.

Though Bernson did not issue his opinion during the meeting, when reached afterward, he said the board hadn’t considered all possible options to balance the budget. Bernson said he wanted to cut into teachers wages, specifically what he termed their “Cadillac benefits.”

“We didn’t make the hard decisions we needed to make in a timely manner,” he said. “We’re not addressing full compensation in the way that we should as responsible public servants.”

As board members said their goodbyes to Bernson and outgoing board student representative Katharine Scruggs, many said they often disagreed with his views, but always respected his opinions.

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