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Anne Arundel Board of Education approves superintendent's budget

The Anne Arundel County Board of Education approved Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's $968.6 million operating budget recommendations for next year by an 8-1 margin Wednesday, after one board member unsuccessfully moved to have the budget amended and another complained that it requests too much additional money as the county aims to be more fiscally responsible.

The board simultaneously approved the $156.9 million capital budget that gives $46.7 million to continuing construction projects at four schools:Northeast High School, and Belle Grove, Folger McKinsey and Point Pleasant elementary schools. It also allocates $3.6 million for designs to replace Severna Park High School, $11 million for full-day kindergarten and pre-kindergarten additions, and $14 million for textbooks.

The operating budget for fiscal year 2012 is $37.3 million more than the previous year's budget. It funds negotiated agreements with unions, the system's health care obligations and 20 mentor-teachers required to fulfill obligations associated with Race to the Top federal funding.

After the meeting, board Chairwoman Patricia Nalley said she was pleased with the recommendations, which total $108,000 less than what Maxwell proposed in December. "I'm proud of what we've done," she said.

The lone dissenter in the vote, board member Victor Bernson, argued that the budget is too similar to previous budgets he has reviewed in his five years on the board.

Bernson added, "This budget seeks $40 million in new spending, an increase of more than 4 percent. … This budget doesn't even make a pretense of engaging in real honest cuts, nowhere. How can we ask for $40 million in new spending when we already know the county has no additional money to give?

"This board should not be asking for phantom pay and benefit increases, which we already know are impossible," Bernson continued. "But rather, we should be a true partner with the county in searching diligently for greater efficiencies, economies of scale and making responsible decisions about changing compensation, especially health care benefits. I don't believe we have a revenue problem; I believe we have a spending problem.

"In the end, this budget will achieve one major goal and one major goal only: It will placate the teachers union," Bernson said. "I can only chuckle when I hear that we have a moral obligation to honor our negotiated agreement with the union. Really? That's our paramount obligation, not providing for our kids but providing for our unions?"

Among those present at the meeting was Tim Mennuti, president of the county teachers union, who disagreed with Bernson's remarks, saying that that the board does not have a moral obligation but a legal obligation under state law to honor its agreement with the unions.

"Mr. Bernson has voted against every budget," Mennuti said. "What I'm surprised [about] is that over the years he has not presented an alternative budget. It's fine for people to say that we need to cut, cut, cut, but the reality is when you put cuts on the table, you're going to get a group demonstrating against it."

Before the budget vote, board member Eugene Peterson made a motion to include the expansion of the Advancement Via Individual Determination program to fifth grade in elementary schools with the largest concentration of African-American, Hispanic, and free- and reduced-price meal students. He also suggested adding an additional pupil personnel worker position.

His motion was ultimately voted down by a 6-2 margin. Board members who voted against it said it was too late to make substantial changes in the proposed budget.

Both budgets will be forwarded to County Executive John R. Leopold, who will present his version to the County Council on April 15. The council must adopt a budget by June 1.

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