After months of feuding over the school budget, Baltimore County politicians and education officials emerged from a closed-door summit yesterday to pledge a new era of goodwill.
Nothing but smiles and vows of cooperation were evident after the unusual 80-minute luncheon meeting, which included all seven county councilmen.
Dr. Anthony G. Marchione, the acting school superintendent, promised to work closely with the county to solve the school system's money problems and said he would not ignore elected officials' budget decisions and fiscal limits next year.
"I'm looking forward to a good relationship," he said, adding that budget battles don't have to continue. Next week, he will begin attending the county executive's twice-monthly meetings of department heads, he said.
The meeting was arranged by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III, who said he was disturbed by last week's resumption of budget hostilities between council members and school officials.
"This meeting had to occur," said Mr. Ruppersberger, stressing his desire for peace and cooperation, rather than public sniping that could erode public confidence in county schools. "I want to focus on the classroom."
"I feel very good about it," County Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina said.
Those were very different sentiments from those he expressed last week, when he accused school officials of deliberately spreading false information about council budget cuts. He and the executive said yesterday, however, that Dr. Marchione was left with those problems when Stuart Berger was fired as superintendent Aug. 1.
The executive refused to allow reporters into the meeting, which was held at his Towson offices. He said personnel matters involving specific employees were being discussed but it was obvious after the delicatessen-style luncheon that a wide range of budget issues also was discussed.
In addition to the pledges of cooperation, open communications and trust, several specific agreements were reached during the meeting, participants said afterward.
Dr. Marchione agreed:
* To form a new team of executive, council and education budget specialists to determine whether $1.3 million the school system says it needs this year can be found in the $604 million school budget. Mr. Ruppersberger said he wants that issue settled within 10 days.
* To cooperate with the executive in preparing the school budget this winter so that the final request is closer to the county's financial capabilities.
* Not to bind the school system to any new contracts without getting approval from the executive and council. This refers to early-retirement incentives offered to teachers over the past two years. The council cut funds for the incentives, but the school board paid them anyway because it had contracted with teachers before the budget was approved.
* Not to go ahead with programs that the executive or council has cut in the budget process. This year, Mr. Ruppersberger cut more than $2 million in administrators' pay raises, which the school board later approved anyway.
* Not to transfer funds between education categories before getting County Council approval before the June 30 end of each fiscal year. The board recently asked the council to approve $5.8 million in transfers made during the fiscal year that ended June 30 this year, a request that was criticized last week by several council members.
* That George P. Poff Jr., the school system's lobbyist in Annapolis, will now also be the superintendent's liaison with the council.