Passing possibly the leanest operating budget in its history -- $353.2 million -- was the easy part for eight school board members Wednesday night.
Positioning themselves for a tough budget battle with the County Council, board members are asking for 65 additional teaching positions, 20 special education teachers, 14 aides and more money for school furniture and increased insurance costs.
Board members sliced $6 million from the $359.2 million requestedby Superintendent Larry L. Lorton.
Money to pay a teacher in a teen-infant program at Annapolis High and a teacher for Project Independence, which serves students of families on welfare, was eliminated. In addition, school secretaries will have to continue dispensing medicine and taking temperatures, as a request for 12 health aides was cut.
Other high-profile positions, including a business partnership coordinator and a safety and security specialist, also were cut.
Opposition to the streamlined budget came from an obvious source -- teachers who won't get raises. As board members entered the school system's Riva Road headquarters, they were met by 70 shivering, sign-toting teachers and counselors, protesting the lack of pay increases and a host of other shortcomings they see in the budget proposal.
Brooklyn Park-Lindale technology education teacher John Kurpjuweit's sign-- "I Get No Respect" -- expressed his sentiments about the TeachersAssociation of Anne Arundel County's inability to reach a contract agreement, even after retracting a request for a 10 percent increase in exchange for improved working conditions.
Teachers complain, forinstance, that they aren't allowed to use school photo-copying and ditto machines, and that they have no way to communicate with the mainoffice in case of emergencies in classrooms.
School counselors carried signs reading: "I Can't Do More, With Less, Less, Less," complaining that their hours were cut from year-round to only 10 months.
After nearly six hours of debate, the board passed a final budget that did little to alleviate those concerns.
There were occasional squabbles as board members eliminated $60,000 for teacher sabbaticals,and decided to enter the next school year with 16 fewer secretaries,even though 1,500 more students are expected.
Money for ISIS, a long-delayed system-wide integrated computer system, was cut from $7.4 million to $3.6 million. The money, to be included in the school system's operating budget, will pay for five new computer labs and maintenance of the existing system.
But the budget included reinstatement of some of the money cut this year to make up for an $8 million budget deficit. Yielding to public pressure, board members restored money for a water safety program for fifth-graders, bus service for theTeen Infant program at Meade High and activity buses for high schooland middle school students.
In spending for transportation, $25,000 was added so special education students can be driven to after-school jobs. And $30,000 was included in the administration category forconsulting services for Project MINT, the minority teacher training program the board is developing.
Board members also trimmed Lorton's $43.9 million capital budget proposal to $36.4 million. Apparentlyhoping to spread some of the budget load, they asked that the Department of Parks and Recreation cover the costs of custodian over-time pay during recreational activities, which would save $275,000.
"Thepicture is getting sadder and sadder," board member Vincent Leggett said. "It's like peeling an onion; we'll be crying by the end."
Lorton quickly replied, "Yes sir, you will."
Now, board members mustshift their attention to convincing the county executive and County Council that the budget they passed is air-tight.
School officialsalso are concerned about proposed state legislation to revamp the way state money is given to local governments, a plan that could cost the county more than $5 million in state aid.
"I feel like what we did was OK," Lorton said. "I am concerned about the initiatives that are not in it as well. Some very important issues are not in, including salaries for employees and the inability to expand programs.
"We haven't begun to hear the screams yet."
The budget request is due to the county executive by March 1. After he submits a proposal to the County Council, public hearings will be scheduled. A final budgetis scheduled to be adopted by the council by June 15.