They wanted to cut more. They tried to cut more.

But in the end, the county school board had to settle for cutting about only $9 million from the superintendent's proposed budget, a budget that had been called "extravagant."

"It's not been an easy process," said board president JoAnn Tollenger. "Despite what's been reported in the media, the staff recommendations were not extravagant."

After several hours of debate, school board members approved an operating budget of $365.8 million, about$8.9 million less than the budget submitted by outgoing Superintendent Larry L. Lorton Jan. 22, but 9.9 percent above current spending levels.

In addition, the school board approved a capital budget of $22.7 million, including money for planning, construction and renovation of several crowded schools throughout the county.

The operatingbudget, which now will go to County Executive Robert R. Neall, includes money for 115 new teachers to handle an expected increase of 2,700 students.

The board cut 87 new positions the superintendent had requested, including 20 secretaries.

Secretaries in the county's school system have long complained that they are understaffed and overworked.

Many have to dispense medications to students because there is no full-time nurse.

Special education received $38 million, an increase of about $5 million over this year's amended budget. However, the board cut the superintendent's request for 22 new positions in the special education area.

The board's staff was asked to come up with a budget that would restore school funding to fiscal 1992 levels, before the amended budget was adopted, Tollenger said.

The County Council adopted an amended budget of $333 million in December after the state cut nearly $32 million in state funding to the county.

Council members spent much of their time debating the elimination of five positions -- a psychologist, nurse, secretary and two therapists -- from the Phoenix Learning Centers for special-education students.

For the past 10 years, the county Health Department has been picking up the cost of student health care. However, Greg Norris,the county's budget liaison, told board members that arrangement may soon be changed.

Norris said the Health Department is in worse financial straits than the school board.

The school board must, by law, provide health services to all of its students, said member Nancy Gist.

While the school board could operate under the assumption that the Health Department will have enough money to continue providing health services to students, the board could be in violation of the law if that arrangement were to end, board members argued.

"This is a really sad day," Lorton said. "In Anne Arundel County, we have done something very few jurisdictions have enjoyed."

Tollenger, who abstained from voting to fund the five health positions for the Phoenix Learning Center, said she did so becauseshe felt the board was "being held up at the last minute."

"I don't think the administration really cares where we cut," Tollenger said. "I think the administration already has a dollar figure in mind.

"If we have to take a wild guess between what we request and what we expect (from the county), it could be about $20 million (difference)," she added.

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