Parham, Gary spar over budget request for 14 percent increase in school funding


Anne Arundel County school Superintendent Carol S. Parham figured that an overflowing county treasury justified her request for a budget increase almost five times bigger than last year's and way more than County Executive John G. Gary had warned her he could fund.

"The president of the United States, the governor and the county executive all said these were great economic times," Parham said yesterday. "They said there were surpluses and the cupboard was bare here [at school board headquarters]. I couldn't say anymore that these were not our needs."

Parham denied suggestions that she knew her $501 million budget -- $60 million more than this year's $441 million spending package -- was unrealistic and unfundable, and submitted it to curry favor with the school board. She was putting the interest of the county's 73,000 students first, she said.

Gary angered Parham and the school board when he implied during a meeting with The Sun on Friday that Parham caved in to the board's wishes for a 14 percent budget increase in exchange for her contract renewal last spring. Increases in the past few years have been between 1 percent and 3 percent. Parham and board members deny any link between the budget and the contract.

The Gary administration has contended that Parham, her staff and the board knew months ago to expect only about a 3 percent increase. Through a spokeswoman, Gary has said he felt "betrayed" when he received a budget request from Parham and the board that they knew the county could not afford.

Coming in an election year, the request put Gary in the unpopular position of having to make cuts, and he pared the budget to $454.6 million.

Gary, a Republican, is being challenged by County Councilwoman Diane R. Evans, a Democrat.

Publicly, Gary muttered when Parham recommended a $493 million budget -- a 12 percent increase -- to the school board in January. He said he understood the school systems' needs but doubted that he would be able to fund them all. He roared a month later, however, after the board added about $8 million to Parham's budget.

Tom Andrews, county chief administrative officer, said Gary is upset with the board and Parham.

"He was concerned about the 12 percent increase Dr. Parham wanted," Andrews said. "Then when the board added more, it was like adding insult to injury."

Yesterday, Parham went before the County Council, the final arbiter of budget matters, for the first of three hearings on her budget, and she spoke plainly: "My motivations are simple. I want the best for our children."

Although Gary reduced the school budget, he increased the capital budget from $58 million to $68 million and found money for the construction of two elementary schools.

To get the unasked for construction money Gary has proposed, the board would have to submit a letter of support to the council.

Despite the recent bickering, board Vice President Paul Rudolph said yesterday, "I guess we will write that letter. There are a lot of questions that need to be answered about this situation."

More discussion about budgeting is scheduled for the board's May 20 meeting.

Pub Date: 5/08/98

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