Anne Arundel County's budget process turned rocky on Friday, as the County Council cut $5 million from the school system -- a move the schools superintendent called a "spiteful and petty power play."
On a 7-0 vote, the County Council cut the school system's roof replacement budget from $2 million to zero, and the maintenance backlog budget from $4.1 million to $1.1 million.
County Executive Laura Neuman's budget officer, John Hammond, opposed the cuts.
The cuts represent a tiny portion of the school system's nearly $600 million budget. But Schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell issued a sharply worded statement after the vote that read, in part: "Every councilmanic district in our county is impacted, and the members of this Council will need to explain to their constituents why they have chosen political theater over sorely needed projects."
With the cuts, the school system won't be able to replace the roof at Rippling Woods Elementary in Glen Burnie. Scores of other projects are in jeopardy, including upgrading the running tracks at Arundel High and Meade High, repairing lights at North County High's stadium, and painting, lighting and flooring projects throughout the county.
Maxwell said the motivation for the $5 million cuts was payback for $5 million that the County Council was forced to add to the schools budget last year to meet the state's funding requirements, called "maintenance of effort."
During a public meeting on the issue last fall, Councilman Jamie Benoit, D-Crownsville, said, "It'll probably be the last five million [dollars] the Board of Education gets in a long while." And County Councilman John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie, said at the time: "We're at war."
Benoit, who sponsored the cuts, said Friday that he wasn't trying to retaliate against the schools at all. He said the money will be moved into a county contingency fund.
County Council members vote on any expenditures from the contingency fund, which is often used for unaccounted-for expenses, such as snow removal from major storms.
Benoit said he thought it was prudent to beef up the contingency fund. If the money isn't used, the school system can request the money.
"There's nothing to say they can't have the money … They can come down and ask for an appropriation," he said.
Benoit said the fact that the amount of the cuts is the same as the amount disputed last year was just a coincidence. "It was the number we needed for the council to feel comfortable," he said.
He dismissed the superintendent's criticism as "complete nonsense."
The County Council plans to finalize the budget on Tuesday.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun