Better way to a school budget; Anne Arundel: Superintendent's proposed increase could reignite tension of last year, but let's hope not.


SUPERINTENDENT Carol S. Parham has submitted her proposed budget to the Anne Arundel County school board. The immediate reaction? Dr. Parham is repeating last year's bruising battle over spending. As she did a year ago, Dr. Parham is asking for a substantial increase despite little padding in the county budget. The big difference may be the attitude of a more agreeable county executive and County Council.

Dr. Parham is requesting an operating budget for the 1999-2000 school year of $516 million, 11 percent more than this year's budget of $461 million. In light of continued low inflation, the magnitude of the increase seems outrageous.

The superintendent, however, contends that her request is far from extravagant because the budget would have to increase about 8 percent just to accommodate the maintenance of effort -- the state requirement that per-pupil spending not regress -- plus fixed costs such as health insurance, negotiated pay raises and debt service.

If the superintendent added no programs, she would still need $37 million more than this year.

But Dr. Parham is also seeking $18 million for new programs. The new expenses are easily justified: Y2K computer reprogramming, additional teachers, counseling and support positions and a summer program for children in schools with falling test scores.

Assuming that the school board adds to the superintendent's recommendation, as it did last year, County Executive Janet S. Owens' task will be more daunting. Teachers and parents will likely seek payback for helping her defeat John G. Gary last fall.

If another budget free-for-all is to be avoided, shaping a workable education budget will require unprecedented cooperation between the superintendent, school board, county executive and council. Anne Arundel certainly deserve that much.

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