After a months-long stalemate over Baltimore County's school spending, County Council Chairman Vincent J. Gardina said yesterday that the council would consider helping to cover a $10 million budget shortfall.
Acting school Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione said yesterday morning that he was pressing forward with his request for money to help balance the books, adding that he was prepared to cut the headquarters staff.
Mr. Gardina, who had been unwilling to discuss any extra funding for schools, responded by saying that the council would consider a supplemental budget -- under certain conditions.
"Progress from both sides is being made," he said. "The council is very receptive to Dr. Marchione's efforts to address the concerns we've had."
Most council members had been adamantly opposed to any supplemental funding for the school system. They were upset that the school board spent $5.8 million of last year's budget on expenditures not approved by the council. And school officials' decision to hold spending down 25 percent at each school was seen by some on the council as a pressure tactic.
"The council's position as a group is that the supplemental budget should be a last resort, that in order to address the deficit there are a number of things that should be addressed by the [school] administration," Mr. Gardina said.
He said the council would not take action unless school officials rescinded the freeze on instructional spending and removed money from programs cut by the council. As an example, he cited $2 million allotted for administrators' pay raises.
He said supplemental spending is most appropriate to address specific problems, such as aiding schools where enrollment exceeds projections.
School officials said they were reviewing the budget -- and the plan to hold spending down 25 percent. That reduction could save more than $5 million, Dr. Marchione said.
He said teaching positions would not be cut, but the system would look to save about $1 million by hiring substitute teachers.
Ray Suarez, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said the union's position is that all certified teachers should receive full pay and benefits. But he acknowledged that the union could not stop the use of the substitute teachers.
Dr. Marchione said he would request the supplemental budget at a meeting Wednesday with auditors from the County Council and county executive's office. "I hope that they will be understanding and be ready to support what we are trying to do, and that is resolve the problem we have created."
He would not say how much money he would request.
The acting superintendent, who took office in August after Superintendent Stuart Berger was fired, outlined his position at a news conference. He also stressed that the budget problem was of the school system's own doing.
Mr. Gardina said, "It comes down to the fact that, unfortunately, Dr. Marchione inherited some major problems from Dr. Berger, who in my opinion was completely irresponsible fiscally."