Anne Arundel County Interim School Superintendent Mamie Perkins this week unveiled a $1.04 billion operating budget proposal for the next fiscal year, calling for 75 new positions throughout the school system and $5.8 million to open a new contract school.
Perkins outlined a budget recommendation that's $35.5 million — or 3.5 percent — above the current approved budget. That request may put Perkins at odds with the Anne Arundel County government, which school officials say will fund nearly 60 percent of the budget.
County officials have told the school system not to expect a budget increase and have stated repeatedly that the county won't provide much above a state-mandated per-pupil funding requirement. That, plus a pension funding requirement, would give the school system about $7 million more than the county approved last year.
Still, Perkins made her case for additional funding at a school board meeting that was also attended by County Council members Jerry Walker and Richard Ladd.
She said the two biggest issues the school system faces are eliminating the achievement gap and implementing statewide Common Core standards. She said her budget plan addresses those concerns as district-wide enrollment stands at 78,490 students — an addition of nearly 4,500 over the past decade.
School officials said enrollment is expected to surpass 80,000 in five years. Anne Arundel is now the fifth-largest school system in the state, behind Montgomery, Baltimore and Prince George's counties and Baltimore City.
Perkins said the 75 new hires would include about 33 teaching positions to address enrollment increases, as well as 15 special educators. All but two of the 75 positions will be based in schools, Perkins said.
"There were some difficult and even painful decisions along the way, as there are in any budget process," Perkins said. "However, I believe this recommended operating budget, which is just over $1 billion, responsibly puts us in a position to best address the needs of a growing student population.
"We may well see Anne Arundel County become Maryland's fourth-largest school system in the next several years," she said.
The proposal also includes $5.8 million in operating expenses for Monarch Global Academy Contract School, which is slated to open in August in Laurel. And it includes $1.6 million to address health care fees required by the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Perkins' request marks the first time in eight years that the school board will be voting on a budget crafted by a superintendent other than Kevin Maxwell, who departed in August to take a similar position in Prince George's County. Perkins' term in office lasts one year, until a permanent superintendent is selected.
In addition to the operating budget request, a separate $192 million capital budget proposal — for construction and renovation projects — includes $18 million for ongoing renovation projects at Annapolis, Crofton, Lothian and Mills-Parole elementary schools.
The school board's president, Teresa Milio-Birge, called the overall proposal solid.
"We're going to look through it and make sure we're happy with everything that's there, but from what I've seen, it's very well put together," she said. "Hopefully the county executive and council will see Mrs. Perkins' wisdom and we will have more teachers and foreign language interpreters and support for our students this year."
Councilman Ladd said he believes the budget represents the school system's needs — but wondered whether Perkins had probed existing programs to see whether any could be trimmed.
"I'm curious as to whether they've gone through and taken a fresh look at the ongoing programs to see if there was anything in there that she would consider lazy," Ladd said. "They're very good at lining up the additional things they can spend money on. We do not have a mechanism — if we see at the end of the year an ability — to fund a small piece or a portion of it without having to give that money to them forever."
Walker lauded Perkins' mentioning the financial constraints the county currently faces and added, "I don't think previously that has been given much attention."
But Walker shot down the capital budget proposal figure, which is similar to previous requests.
"To put it nicely, it's unrealistic," Walker said. "The total budget for our capital projects is in the $200 million range. For us to fund all of that toward the school system just isn't feasible."
Anne Arundel Public Schools chief operating officer Alex Szachnowicz said the system anticipates that about $56.5 million of its capital budget request would come from the state.
Also at Wednesday's meeting, the school board voted to recommend creation of a task force of 15 members or fewer to study potential changes in school start times.
And it was announced that the developers of Waugh Chapel Towne Centre, a 1.2 million-square-foot mixed-use project in Gambrills, have donated $300,000 to parent teacher organizations in a dozen adjacent county schools. Developers Greenberg Gibbons and Reliable Contracting said each parent teacher organization would receive $25,000.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun