Agreements may inflate school system budget


The proposed $414 million operating budget for Anne Arundel County schools contains what Acting Superintendent Carol S. Parham calls "necessities" -- such as money to hire 51 teachers and 43 special education teachers.

What the budget doesn't contain, however, may turn out to be just as important as what's in it.

With the exception of the $120,000 set aside to hire two employees to cope with discipline and child abuse problems, the proposed budget fails to establish price tags for many items needed to fulfill the provisions of two major agreements the Board of Education reached in December.

The board agreed to accept the recommendations of the Baron Report on sexual abuse in schools and it settled a complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

"The recommendations from "The recommendations from those reports came very late," said Dr. Parham, explaining why those items are absent from the budget. "We're in the process of making estimates on what the cost is going to be for those items."

The first agreement was made Dec. 15 when the eight school board members voted to accept and implement the recommendations of two investigators who examined how the school system mishandled suspected child abuse cases.

The Baron report -- named for lead investigator Alan I. Baron -- recommended these actions:

* Hiring a supervisor and a clerk to manage the employee discipline process and to oversee case files and maintain records.

* Hiring experts to train school administrators and Board of Education staff in how to recognize a child abuser.

* Writing, printing and distributing an employee handbook that details the obligation to report suspected child abuse to police and to the Department of Social Services.

* Providing separate legal counsel for the eight-member Board of Education and the school system's administrative staff.

* And training special assistants to the superintendent, who were described in the report as "amateur sleuths," to investigate suspected cases of child abuse and employee and student discipline problems.

Dr. Parham said her staff is discussing how to accomplish those goals.

After they've decided on a strategy, "then we discuss the price tag that comes with that," said Dr. Parham. She estimated that the numbers can be settled sometime in March.

About the same time, the Board of Education staff will have assessed costs associated with an agreement announced Dec. 17 by Dr. Parham and the U.S. Department of Education.

That agreement settled a complaint filed in 1991 by The Anne Arundel County Coalition of Tenants after photographs of black lynching victims were hung in the halls of Glen Burnie High

School after a student fight.

The 16-point plan is aimed at keeping race from being a factor in student discipline cases.

But some aspects of the civil rights plan also carry unknown costs:

* Reprinting, by September, all student handbooks and any other publications so they contain a notice of nondiscrimination;

* Providing cultural sensitivity training to all staff and administrators.

"I don't see the . . . requirements as a big ticket item," said Kenneth P. Lawson, acting associate superintendent of schools, who is evaluating the recommendations and costs.

Recommendations of the Baron report are being reviewed, "but that will be a significant number," Mr. Lawson said.

As a result, the operating budget could go higher than Dr. Parham's projected $414 million, or the school board could decide to reallocate money within the budget to accommodate the additional costs.

School board members got their first glimpse at the proposed operating budget Jan. 12; Dr. Parham's presentation to the board is set for Feb. 2.

The school board is scheduled to adopt a budget on Feb. 16. The operating budget and capital budget requests must go to the County Council by March 1. If Dr. Parham doesn't have cost estimates to implement the recommendations by then, the school board may have to submit its best guess.

Dr. Parham's proposed budget marks an increase of $30.8 million, or 8 percent, over the current year's $383.5 million allocation.

Most of the proposed increase would cover pay raises negotiated last fall for employees: a 2 percent raise this month that will carry over into the budget year that begins July 1, and a 4 percent raise in July.

Comments from the public are scheduled to be heard during two meetings next month: Feb. 2 at school system headquarters and Feb. 9 at Glen Burnie High School. Both meetings are scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.

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