By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun
6:13 PM EST, January 12, 2012
Anne Arundel County residents attending hearings this week lauded school Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's recommended $986.2 million operating budget and encouraged the school board to adopt it and the County Council to help fund it.
Maxwell presented his recommendations at two public hearings. The proposed budget comes at a time when concerns over maintaining the quality of education amid a stagnant economy are high and the school system and County Executive John Leopold are at odds over per-pupil funding.
The budget process last fiscal year was fraught with many of the same concerns.
Maxwell's fiscal year 2013 budget requests authority to fill 62 additional teaching positions and fully funds negotiated agreements with all four employee bargaining groups.
About three dozen people attended the meeting Tuesday at Old Mill High School in Millersville. All of those who commented on the fiscal 2013 budget voiced support; they included members of the teachers and secretaries union.
Diana Peckham, a member of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said the group approved of Maxwell's effort to honor negotiated agreements and said that county officials should support those efforts.
"We do not have a spending problem in this county; we have a revenue problem," said Peckham. She said that the county's funding authority should "honor its commitments rather than continue to force educators, police, fire, county, office and department employees to pay from their own pockets for county services which benefit all Anne Arundel County residents."
Maxwell said that residents' comments led him to believe they are aware of the economic challenges facing school budget funding, and added, "They understand that beyond the negotiated agreements there is only a 1.2 percent increase that we're asking for here. They understand this is not a pie-in-the-sky budget. You're not hearing people crying and gnashing their teeth."
Leopold has argued that the school money would amount to more than 80 percent of the county's total budget when resources are scarce to fund all departments. He said Maxwell has known that the school system would not receive any more than the state-mandated maintenance of effort, which requires that local governments, at a minimum, keep per-pupil funding at the same level as the previous year. He added that to vow to uphold union agreements in the face of such knowledge is "unhinged with reality."
Maxwell contends that the amount is necessary to maintain quality school programs, services and personnel. School officials said that the request is $49.5 million more than the 2012 fiscal year budget approved by the County Council, with $33.8 million of that going toward funding of the negotiated agreements.
The arguments, particularly over maintenance-of-effort funding, are similar to those heard when Maxwell proposed his fiscal 2012 budget. In fact, this year's budget proposal also includes a $3.8 million maintenance-of-effort penalty that the Maryland State Board of Education imposed on the school system for the 2012 fiscal year. The state board issued a letter to the county executive in December stating that based on the school system's tabulations, the county had not met its 2012 maintenance-of-effort obligation. On Wednesday, the county budget office responded that it had met the requirement
Asked about the differences between this year's budget cycle and last year's, Maxwell said, "I think we are in pretty similar places. I don't see a lot of improvement or a lot of disintegration. The economics of the world has not changed dramatically, and so we are hopeful that funding will increase.
"We certainly are in serious disagreement with the county executive and the County Council over maintenance of effort, and I think that's playing out in the appropriate fashion right now," Maxwell added. "The state legislature has stated to [the Maryland Association of Counties] that they are not keeping up their end of the bargain. The state has dramatically increased funding over the last 10 years, and there is an understanding that the locals were not going to supplant their funding with state funding. That is what maintenance of effort is really all about. I am optimistic that we are going to survive the challenges that the county puts forward to that, and we will see where we go from there."
After the hearing, Peckham recommended that the county change the tax cap to increase funding and added, "County employees have been furloughed more so than teachers have, and I think someone might be looking for an equality of costs from those particular groups of employees."
But Peckham said that the tax cap change would benefit all county employees. "You can't continue to ask the county employees, the county educators, the secretaries, custodians, police and fire to be the only ones to pay for this lack of revenue," she said.
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