ISSUE: -- Saying the school system can be one of the country's best and that the county can afford to pay for it, Anne Arundel Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell has proposed a $920 million operating budget for the next fiscal year.
The operating budget, which he outlined to the school board Jan. 3, calls for a $131 million increase, or 17 percent, to expand special education services, prekindergarten and all-day kindergarten programs; bolster security; update technology; and begin the International Baccalaureate program at Meade High School and precursor programs at three middle schools. It also funds a previously negotiated 6 percent pay increase for teachers.
The call for excellence might put into focus the level of education the county, constrained by a tax cap, is willing to spend in a belt-tightening year, given other pressing funding demands.
The county faces several expenses that will total in the billions of dollars: road upgrades and an expansion of mass transit around Fort Meade; the negotiation of 10 union contracts; growing commitments for retirees' health care; and school construction and renovations. The new county executive, John R. Leopold, vowed in the fall campaign that he would not raise taxes.
Given the financial challenges facing the county, can Anne Arundel afford a 17 percent increase in schools funding? How should it be paid for?
Commitment to future needed
At some point in the near future, the citizens and leadership of Anne Arundel County must commit to the future of its children.
Dr. Maxwell's budget must be fully funded in order to prevent the county from falling further behind the surrounding districts.
How can we be content in knowing that the fifth-wealthiest county in Maryland is only willing to be the 11th highest in per-pupil spending?
Can Anne Arundel County afford a 17 percent increase in schools funding? Not only can it, it must.
County Executive John R. Leopold and the County Council have the opportunity to do what is right for the students of Anne Arundel County. Let's hope they have the will and fortitude.
Christopher D. WooleyHand
The writer is principal of Hillsmere Elementary School in Annapolis.
Excellence requires financial support
I support the increased budget proposed by Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell. If we want high-performing schools, we must be willing to provide the financial support that is necessary to get schools moving toward excellence. It is just that simple.
Our county is surrounded by districts that have mobile computer labs in every school, schools that issue laptops and presenters to all classroom teachers, and higher pay for teachers.
If we want to continue to attract a high caliber of citizens to this county, then there is no question that the proposed budget should be accepted.
Charis Jones Annapolis
The writer is a teacher at Annapolis Middle School.
Stop complaining, increase budget
Anne Arundel County could afford the increase in the budget, but the esteemed citizens who work hard for the money that funds the budget demonstrate repeatedly that personal wealth is more important than the system that provided them with the ability to live the way they do.
This question about affording an increase in school funding happens every year. Funding of schools should never be an issue when the future of the county, state and country relies on the school system's ability to educate and prepare competent citizens that contribute to society.
We complain about the number of youth getting in more trouble, yet we cut funding for after-school activities.
Employers bemoan the number of ill-prepared high school graduates entering the "real world" and direct their frustration to the teachers that educate these new faces in society. They curse the system that cannot afford to prepare them, never thinking about the myriad of higher-paying professions most teachers turn down because they understand that without an education we will never progress.
Meanwhile, neighborhoods are popping up in every open piece of land with million-dollar homes and status-symbol cars in their garages.
Have we forgotten everything that we learned in school? I am a teacher. I am a taxpayer. I am responsible for what happens in years to come, yet I am handcuffed by lack of funds because people that make more than teachers are unwilling to part with some of their money for the betterment of all involved.
If we, as a county, would just stop complaining about how a tax increase takes away another luxury item from our exorbitant lifestyles and realize the greater good accomplished by teachers, maybe this would not be an issue every year.
Rich Zwolinski Millersville
Needs justify increased taxes
As an educator in the Anne Arundel County Public School system, I congratulate Dr. Maxwell for requesting the budget increase.
I see many teachers overworked this year. I hear murmurs of early retirement or of plans of a career change by talented and dedicated staff. I know of teachers using their personal leave to grade student work in order to provide feedback.
I believe many of these issues are due to lack of personnel and an increased teacher-to-student ratio. I am willing to pay increased taxes to alleviate these problems.
Jacqueline J. Bradley Linthicum
The writer is a special education teacher at Severna Park High School.
Budget contains critical items
As a lifelong resident, parent and employee of county public schools for 20 years, I hope the county fully supports the budget put forth by Dr. Kevin Maxwell.
His budget includes necessary items that will allow Anne Arundel County to grow and provide the quality and level of education offered in surrounding school systems.
Critical items include positions so that elementary school children have full-time access to a school counselor.
The addition of registrars and test coordinators at each high school will allow students to access the services of their school counselor. We are the only major school system in Maryland without these important services, and, consequently, high school counselors spend more than 40 percent of their time work time performing clerical tasks instead of working with children.
Lack of access to professional school counselors at the high school level interferes with rigorous course taking and college access.
It is unfortunate that our growing and beautiful county is not placing the needed economic support on our children and we will continue to lag behind other systems if we do not fund these critical services. Professional school counselors are at the heart of academic success, and we are not utilizing their skills when work demands place clerical work over student support.
Families and children deserve access to an outstanding school system that includes proper supports for children to thrive and achieve. Dr. Maxwell has the talent and drive to lead county schools from good to great. Please provide adequate resources to make this a reality.
Gayle M. Cicero Pasadena
The writer is the coordinator of guidance for the county public school system.
County can make budget work
How can we not support the proposed budget?
We need to address and strengthen our schools and students to strengthen the foundation of our communities. To continue to raise the standards and results of our students will only benefit our communities. The likelihood of these educated young people remaining and returning to work and raise their families in Anne Arundel County is great.
Anne Arundel County needs to continue to push for the most advanced schools and technology available. We should show our appreciation and support for all of the staff that works with our students. I support the budget. I believe that the county can make it work if we try.
Lucy Franklin Friendship
Consider more revenue sources
If Anne Arundel County is serious about education, multiple additional revenue sources must be considered, starting with the tax cap and impact fees on the developers seeking public subsidies in the form of infrastructure improvements that will ultimately help them profit from development at Fort Meade.
A strong school system is the foundation of a strong local economy. However, Anne Arundel County must acknowledge that there is a "tale of two counties," and education in South County is sorely underfunded and under-resourced in direct comparison to the northern half of the county.
Teachers are entitled to a salary increase. However, they should be required to be a part of the solution to raise the bar in South County. Right now they will not even particpate in my local school's PTA in Lothian.
Perhaps principals and teachers should be held accountable for real action plans to achieve measurable excellence.
If the county school system wants increased funding and the public support to secure such funding in the future, then there must be action today to demonstrate a commitment to the youth of South County.
Superintendent Maxwell comes to us from Montgomery County, which has long demonstrated its commitment to educational excellence through strong funding. We should all support him in holding this school system to the same standards from where he came.
Christopher Doherty Harwood
Need for security a sad commentary
The saddest aspect of Superintendent Maxwell's budget is the need to provide security at 33 schools. It is a lamentable but necessary diversion of education dollars.
Since County Executive John R. Leopold has perpetuated (at a cost to taxpayers of $500,000) the gender-pandering, pretentious full-time personal security position instituted by his predecessor, Janet Owens, he would be hard-pressed to explain why he would not fully fund security for all schools.
There is no greater obligation for a free society than to provide a safe learning environment for its children.
Maryellen O. Brady Edgewater
Finally, support for schools' needs
The budget proposal will finally meet the education needs that the students require.
The No Child Left Behind Act might finally have the funding and resources to support the education of the learning-disabled students and track them toward college, and not just vocational technology. The advanced and average students will also be able to excel with the additional support and resources.
Thanks to the educational leader who finally will support the students and the teachers.
Mary McLean Lothian
County can afford excellent schools
The Severna Park High School Parent Teacher Student Organization strongly supports the superintendent's budget request.
We believe that Anne Arundel County, the fifth-wealthiest county in Maryland, can well afford to commit itself to providing an excellent education for all its students. Currently, we are 11th in the state in spending.
To take the school system from "good to great" requires updated and improved facilities, top-notch staff, and a long-term funding commitment. We believe the superintendent's budget request is an important step in the road to meeting our children's educational needs.
Susan Scotto Dyckman Severna Park
The writer is the PTSO president at Severna Park High School.
Increase taxes if necessary
I am writing in support of psychologists, teachers, guidance counselors and all other support personnel who work in Anne Arundel County.
All of us work extremely hard with limited resources to meet our children's diverse needs on a daily basis. Many of us spend our own money for supplies and activities to support our students.
Understanding the financial challenges facing our county, resources still need to be found to support the 17 percent increase in school funding.
I am in favor of raising taxes if this is the only way to fund this increase for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
Kimberly Benefield Baltimore
The writer is a psychologist at Tyler Heights Elementary School.
County employee supports budget
I am writing in support of Dr. Maxwell's proposed budget for Anne Arundel County Public Schools.
I am both a county employee and a parent of two wonderful public school students.
As a school social worker, I have had the opportunity to support students and families so that they are better able to access their education. I reach out to the community by making home visits to families who would not otherwise interact with the school system. I am able to provide linkages to county agencies which support our families. The essential link between school and parent enhances our children's education by increasing the amount of school support in the homes of our most needy children.
As a parent, I have had the opportunity to access the prekindergarten and all-day kindergarten programs now offered. My children have benefited greatly from these opportunities.
Can we afford an increase? I feel we must, so that the schools in our state's capital are the best schools they can be.
Amy C. Beller Annapolis
The writer is a social worker at Wiley H. Bates Middle School.
Make budget reflect county's wealth
As stated on Dr. Maxwell's FY2008 Fact Sheet, and verified by checking state records:
Anne Arundel County is the fifth-largest county in Maryland, with the fifth-highest wealth per pupil. Yet we continue to be No. 11 in the spending of taxpayer money per student.
Even with this deficit in per-pupil spending, this county has managed to produce, thanks to dedicated faculty, staff, parents, students and communities; the following:
One of only six schools statewide to be named National Blue Ribbon Schools in both 2005 & 2006 (Folger McKinsey Elementary and Severna Park Middle, respectively).
Several of the state's Nationally Board Certified teachers.
The 2006 Maryland Middle School Principal of the Year
Various Distinguished Leader Awards for different AdMinistrators.
Successful award-winning programs such as AVID.
Double the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses in the past four years
Imagine what we could accomplish if we were given the funding and support necessary for all of our students to achieve their potential.
That is all Dr. Maxwell is asking for -- to increase the budget so it is in line with our county's size and wealth, and in the process increase our ability to provide for the future by giving each student all of the technology, textbooks and expert teaching they need and deserve to prepare them for the world they will encounter.
The writer is a special education teacher at Severna Park Middle School.