Arundel superintendent's budget proposal includes $16.6M pay raise

Anne Arundel County schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell has proposed a $1.01 billion operating budget for fiscal year 2014 that includes $16.6 million for employee raises and $4.5 million for increases in health care costs.

It marks the first time that the state's fifth-largest school system has crafted a budget request that crosses the billion-dollar threshold. Maryland's four largest school systems (Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Baltimore County and Baltimore City) already operate with billion-dollar budgets.

Maxwell said the budget request is a 3 percent increase over the previous year's operating budget, the smallest one-year percentage increase requested in 17 years. Salaries, wages and benefits would make up 79 percent of the budget.

"We have worked hard to pare down our request, but at the same time, there are certain things that we need to have," Maxwell said Wednesday afternoon, a few hours before presenting his budget to the county school board. "Education is expensive. It is labor-intensive. It is a billion dollars; that is a big number. But it's 3 percent more than last year's number. I think it's not out of line when you look at other districts in Maryland, their number of students and their size of budgets."

The county would fund 60 percent of the proposed budget, which under Maxwell's proposal would be $606.3 million.

When asked about the superintendent's proposed budget, County Executive John R. Leopold said the county will contribute $601 million. He said its provision of a state-mandated funding requirement will include money for teacher pensions, as required.

Added Leopold, "The county appropriates millions of dollars in other departmental budgets that help public education. For example, every child deserves a safe and secure learning environment, and I've been able to increase the school resource officer positions in the budget over the last five years. Those are funded in the Police Department budget, as are school crossing guards."

The budget also includes $3.2 million for staffing and other costs to open the school system's Phoenix Academy, a facility for special education and alternative education services. It includes about $854,000 to lease studio space for the county's high school Performing and Visual Arts program.

The school system's recommended $239.6 million capital budget includes more than $153 million for renovation projects at 10 schools, including completion of Point Pleasant Elementary School and Phoenix Academy. It also includes $11 million for all-day kindergarten and pre-K additions and $9 million for open-space classroom enclosures.

The school system will hold public hearings on the budget in January. The school board is scheduled to approve it in February and forward it to the county executive in March. The County Council is scheduled to approve final budgets in June.

Asked whether he believes county government would fund the pay raises, given its reluctance to do so in the past — last year, Leopold's proposed budget funded all the school system's requests except the pay raise line item — Maxwell pointed to the council's recent granting of pay increases to other county employees.

"County government just gave pay raises to more than 1,000 employees. They just gave them a 3 percent pay raise," Maxwell said. "We can't keep balancing budgets on the backs of people. Their people have been furloughed, they've given up pay raises. Our people had a furlough, and they've given up tens of millions of dollars in negotiated pay increases over the past four years or so of this terrible recession. They're trying to make ends meet, too."

Asked about Maxwell's comments regarding pay raises given recently to other county employees, Leopold said that those pay raises were mandated by the state Court of Appeals, referring to a ruling in September that a 2002 change in a binding arbitration provision in the county's charter was illegal. Leopold added that when county employees have endured furloughs, he has returned more than $18,400 of his salary to the county "to lead by example. But specifically now, when all county employees are not able to get pay raises, I don't think I should get one, either."

"We have different perspectives," Leopold said of Maxwell. "He wants to do the best he can, understandably, for school employees, but it's necessary that I take a broader perspective of the entire county."

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