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School board must decide how to use $417.1 million


The Anne Arundel County school budget is set at $417.1 million, but how that money will be spent come July 1 remains in dispute because of three thorny issues.

"There was no cost-of-living increase for any employees in the budget, and of the 61 teachers we needed to hire for growth, we got only 51," said Ronald L. Beckett, associate superintendent of support services. "And the budget does not fund the health care plan at the current level. The board is going to have to wrestle with that."

The board meets tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. at the school system's headquarters on Riva Road in Annapolis to begin deliberations on the revised budget.

The board also must discuss the best way to find money to fill five so-called "Baron" positions -- jobs recommended by independent investigator Alan I. Baron, who faulted the school system's handling of child abuse allegations made against teachers. Three positions are filled, even though they were not approved in the budgets adopted by the County Council last year or this spring.

"We made a commitment to state Superintendent Nancy Grasmick and to the state Board of Education to bring those people on board," Mr. Beckett said.

There's also the question of how the board's budget decisions will affect contract negotiations with three of the four labor unions that represent school employees.

"The board has the arbitrator's opinion, and we know how much money the county is giving them. Now we just have to hear what they're willing to accept," said John Kurpjuweit, president of the nearly 4,000-member Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County.

The only union to settle on a contract is Local 1693 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which primarily represents school maintenance workers.

The teachers' contract, which went to arbitration, expires at the end of this month. The Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County and the Association of Educational Leaders, which represents principals, also have not settled their contracts.

A key issue in the negotiations has been the health care package offered to employees. The unions are fighting to keep a traditional Blue Cross and Blue Shield health plan considered to be top-of-the-line.

In passing the budget, the council cut about $1 million from the health care package and earmarked it for use elsewhere in the budget. Mr. Beckett said that means that employee who elected to choose the traditional Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan could have that, but would have to pay more."

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