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School cutback assailed Parents, board call for full funding


More money, more money, more money -- that's what parents and the Board of Education want from the County Council.

Board President Jo Ann Tollenger joined acting School Superintendent C. Berry Carter II and his support staff yesterday for the first of two meetings with the council on the school system's budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The night before, about 200 parents came to Old Mill High School for the first of two public hearings on the education budget. The theme of both meetings was the same: Give the board the entire $365.8 million it asked for.

County Executive Robert R. Neall has proposed a budget of $347.9 million, $17.9 million less than the board requested.

"I came here to ask for the whole $365 million," Tollenger told council members.

"We've been told, 'Do more with less,' and we've been doing it," Carter said. "But the phrase is getting a little shopworn."

School system budget officer Jack White told council members that, in his 25 years of working with the school system's budget, Neall's recommendation was the low point.

White took exception with Neall, calling his budget "carefully crafted," noting it includes a county recruitment budget of $25,000 for its 3,500 employees, but only $2,000 in recruitment money for the school system, which has 8,000 employees.

"The playing field is uneven," White said. "Please make it right."

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Cheryl Wilhoyte called Neall's 32 percent reduction in funds for library books a "travesty." Wilhoyte said Neall's request of $1.3 million would not provide students with the needed materials for research, or allow the school system to include more multicultural materials in its libraries.

Council members immediately questioned the board's recent decision to transfer $1.4 million earmarked for materials of instruction to pay its utility bills.

"Why didn't the school board come before the council last December when we were striking our budget and tell the council they would not have enough money," asked Council Vice-Chairman Carl "Dutch" Holland, R-Pasadena.

"One of the most painful decisions we had to make was taking money from materials of instruction," Tollenger said. "We estimated wrong, and we had a 16.1 percent rate increase from [Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.]. But we did it because we didn't want to lay people off.

"We were trying to be sensitive to the issue that everyone was asking for money. We tried not to come back to you," Tollenger added.

During Tuesday night's public hearing, several parents let council members know they were upset with the school system for transferring the money from materials of instruction to pay utility costs. But parents also said they were upset with the council for not providing the school system with enough money to pay its bills in the first place.

Both school officials and parents asked the council to restore money for the Integrated School Information System (ISIS) computer network. Neall eliminated the school board's request for $1.28 million for the ISIS program from his proposed budget.

"We're about to enter the 21st century, and we're not even operating in the 20th century," Kathy Pulz, president of the Brooklyn Park Elementary Citizens Advisory Committee, told council members Tuesday night. "At least restore funding so we're operating in the 20th century. Then, we'll only be 100 years behind."

Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, R-Arnold, told school officials she did not think they were using the funds for ISIS wisely.

"I'm concerned over the lack of direction," Evans said. "My vision of ISIS was an integrated system. Here I am hearing you're using the money to pay for [operating] licenses. I have a real problem with your vision."

But school officials argued that the $1 million to $2 million given annually in recent years has never been enough to get ISIS off the ground.

"I don't understand why we're being chastised for not moving forward when we're only receiving $1.2 million to hold where we are," Scott said. "There is no growth. It is only maintenance."

If ISIS is expected to cost $50 million, and the school system is only receiving about $1 million a year from the county, then the school system is doing all it can, White said.

The school board is scheduled to meet with the council again at 1:30 p.m. today. A second public hearing is set for 7:30 tonight at the Arundel Center.

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