About 600 parents, teachers and a few students packed an Anne Arundel County Council hearing on the county budget last night to push for the full $501 million operating budget the school board has requested
County Executive John G. Gary has proposed $454.6 million for the schools.
The hearing in the auditorium of Old Mill High School had the flavor of a rally. Teachers wore red to protest the absence of money for their negotiated pay raises from Gary's spending plan.
The crowd gave standing ovations and rousing applause to the first few speakers who demanded "full funding."
The county is doing well economically and "it is time for the children to share in its wealth," said school board President Carlesa Finney, acknowledging that the board's budget request this year is unusually large.
John Kurpjuweit, president of the 4,100-member Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County (TAAAC), compared Gary's proposed school spending to neglecting a child.
"In order to protect my [teaching] certification I feel that I have to report that the outrageous proposal by John Gary is deliberate neglect of the 73,000 children in Anne Arundel County," said Kurpjuweit.
He was among the first of about 80 people who signed up to speak last night. Most were there to address school spending, although the hearing -- and one scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday in council chambers in Annapolis -- was on the county entire budget proposal.
The heavy turnout followed a TAAAC ad that took up more than a quarter-page in The Sun yesterday and also ran in the Sunday Capital. The ad accused Gary of "having a temper tantrum" and hurting students with his budget proposal. It featured a cartoon of Gary reaching back to spank a crying child in front of the school board.
The ad was the latest volley between school officials and Gary since he announced his budget proposal over a week ago.
At that time, Gary accused the school board of padding it's budget request with "phony expenses" and rearranging funding to suit its whims, regardless of how money is earmarked by the County Council and executive.
"It is not padded," Superintendent Carol S. Parham, who joined the teachers in wearing red, said outside the hearing. She said the budget request is based on real needs and comes after years of slim budgets during difficult economic times.
Kurpjuweit did not hide the fact that the anti-Gary ad -- the association plans to run more -- is an election-year blow at Gary and a heads-up for council members also seeking re-election.
"That's part of it, that it's an election year," he said before the hearing. "I don't believe John Gary's decisions on education and the budget are in any way based on education. They are based on his misguided views of politics."
Kurpjuweit faulted Gary for "cuts" in the school system's share of county funds. He said that during Gary's tenure, the portion of county revenues spent on schools will have shrunk from 47 percent to 43 percent of the general operating budget if his proposal is approved.
But while the schools' share of the budget has gotten smaller, the dollar amounts from the county have steadily increased.
In the fiscal year beginning July 1, for example, schools would receive $304.1 million in county funds, a $13 million increase over the current county contribution of $291.1 million.
Parent Glenn Carr of Annapolis also got into the election-year spirit last night, saying he would help turn Gary into "private citizen John Gary."
Gary's budget proposal would result in larger class sizes because it does not allow for enough new teachers to keep pace with enrollment, said Carr, whose 5-year-old daughter attends Central Special Eduction School.
"Read my necktie: 'Save Our Children,' " he told the council.
Teachers and school officials were pleased by the large and impassioned crowd last night.
"It says, on a cold, rainy night, that people care about education and that the budget should be funded," said Thomas Paolino, a teacher at George Fox Middle School and former TAAAC president.
Pub Date: 5/12/98