In a lengthy and often emotional meeting, the Anne Arundel County Board of Education approved last week the fiscal year 2012 operating and capital budgets, realigned funds for additional classroom teachers, heard nearly two hours of public testimony and said goodbye to two of its members.

In its first meeting since the school year ended this week, the school board adopted a budget Wednesday made up of $936.8 million in operating funds and $116.5 million in capital funds. The board had requested $968.6 million in operating funds and $158 million in capital funds. The county's contribution to the operating budget is $6.3 million less than it provided last year.

To offset the drop in its operating budget, the school board approved such measures as cutting $1.27 million in health care funding and $1 million in textbook funding. It increased secondary summer school and evening high school fees by $100 each and reduced funding for elementary school lunches and recess monitors.

The operating budget cut 26.5 positions, but some of those are expected to be funded through other sources, school officials said.

"We're below what we had hoped for," said Superintendent Kevin Maxwell. "We really believe that to do things the way we were asked to do them in a successful manner, we should have been funded at $5.7 million above this year's budget. Instead, we're $6.3 million below. That creates an obstacle that puts us at a disadvantage relative to some of our sister jurisdictions in the state."

The board has no authority to alter the capital budget, which includes a design study for Severna Park High and Rolling Knolls Elementary schools. Construction on both schools is scheduled to start in 2014. The capital budget also includes $9 million for construction of full-day kindergarten additions at four schools and $4 million for science labs.

School officials also announced a nonbudgetary move of shifting 28 full-time positions from outside the classroom to address class sizes at a time when the school system anticipates 1,000 more students next school year.

"Dr. Maxwell … made his major focus in class size. It's clear that some of the positions added are going to help us with class size," said board President Patricia Nalley.

Part of what made the realignment possible was a recently announced change to the school system's elementary school Talent Development Program: Talent Development teachers will be reassigned, and classroom teachers will be trained to give advanced instruction to more students.

And though school officials said that the change came after three years of consultations with groups that included parents and teachers, on Wednesday they sat through lengthy testimony from scores of parents and community leaders who condemned the plan and said they were not informed beforehand by the school system.

"Since the policy's surprise announcement, the parents of Annapolis have spoken loudly and clearly," said Jeff Macris, chairman of the Annapolis Education Commission. "First, they don't like the plan; and secondly, they like even less the way that it was unveiled.

"Most [parents] complain that the Talent Development Program will be watered down, and that their kids would no longer be challenged," Macris added. "They doubt that overwhelmed classroom teachers could provide concurrent, differentiated, advanced instruction in small groups in the same classroom."

Some parents broke down as they told stories of how the program had helped children who had previously struggled in school, and they asked the system to delay the change for one year.

Those sentiments were shared by those involved in the schools' recently eliminated gymnastics program. Scores of team members, parents and coaches requested a one-year wait before ending the program.

A few school board members agreed that news of the changes should have been conveyed better and questioned how the changes would affect the school system. But Maxwell stood firm, saying there would be no delays.

"I believe that we're moving forward. While the board is asking questions, I don't get a sense that the board is interested in overturning my decision," Maxwell said.

He added that he took exception to the gymnastics community faulting him for ending the sport, adding that when the sport was brought back after a brief hiatus a couple of years ago, gymnastics supporters said they would organize to ensure they would meet the county's minimum required number of teams (six) for a varsity sport.

"Clearly, they have not done that," Maxwell said. "We in good faith reversed the decision a couple of years ago with the understanding that the gymnastics parents and community were going to rally around this issue and fix it. We don't have a community that has organized itself enough. It's not my role as superintendent to organize the gymnastics community."

The board also said goodbye to student member Katherine Scruggs and member Victor Bernson, who has often been at odds over the board's fiscal approach to matters throughout his five-year term. In two of his final moves on the board, Bernson cast the lone votes against the capital and operating budgets.

joseph.burris@baltsun.com

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