The Anne Arundel County Council cut millions from the county budget Friday as they prepared to add up to 60 teachers.
Friday’s meeting is the last big push by the council before it finalizes the budget and votes Thursday. The number of teachers to be hired is not known at this time.
County Councilman Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, said the council will be pushing for as many as 106 teachers.
An amendment by Trumbauer freed another $1 million by shifting that money from supplies to new teachers.
County Executive Steve Schuh has budgeted money for 44 teachers to shrink the size of the largest classes throughout the school system.
“I'm trying to get to the number of teachers to prevent an increase in classroom size,” Trumbauer said. “That is the break-even number.”
Additional teacher money will come from small cuts throughout the operating budget. The auditor recommended $9.2 million in operating cuts — though about $4.2 million are one-time funds that won’t likely be used for recurring costs such as teachers.
What was cut
The council cut across departments.
One was a $125,000 reduction in staff money for the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office.
That money funded a job held by former Assistant State’s Attorney Lawrence Scott, who stepped away from his role after scrutiny surrounding his attorney position and political consulting business.
The council also voted to cut $300,000 to buy gift cards for new teachers. The Schuh administration proposed these gift cards as a way to help teachers buy supplies for their classrooms.
Budget Officer John Hammond pushed back on a few dozen of the 84 amendments considered Friday. A coalition between Councilmen Jerry Walker, R-Crofton; Andrew Pruski, D-Gambrills; Pete Smith, D-Severn; and Trumbauer supported dozens of amendments. Councilmen John Grasso, R-Glen Burnie; Derek Fink, R-Pasadena; and Chairman Michael Peroutka, R-Millersville, often voted against the amendments.
What wasn’t cut
An amendment proposing a $20 million cut to the $28 million land acquisition fund was defeated in a 4-3 vote with Walker, Pruski and Trumbauer supporting the cut.
That money will be used to buy land for schools and parks, county officials said. The county is considering purchasing the Belle Grove Landfill, estimated to cost $22.5 million. The fund has been controversial as the council and county auditor have raised concerns about the rate of the county’s borrowing.
Hammond urged the council to keep the money.
“We were looking to use bonds for the funding source for the project; you get one bite at the apple for bonds,” Hammond said, alluding to approval of the capital budget.
Smith was considered a swing vote. The landfill acquisition — which could be used for schools or parks — would be in Smith’s district. He ultimately voted against the cut, but still had concerns about the land acquisition process.
“There is plenty of money left in here to work with the landowner to do our proper due diligence,” Smith said. “Why would we buy a piece of property where we have not done an environmental study or feasibility study?”
Peroutka introduced the largest amendment to completely cut the Old Mill West High School from the county’s capital budget.
The measure aims to appease residents who did not want the high school so close to Archbishop Spalding High School, a private Catholic school. Peroutka’s brother, Stephen Peroutka, testified against the high school in a previous meeting.
The amendment was defeated in a 5-2 vote with Peroutka and Fink supporting the amendment.
“If it is too early to deal with the constituents’ issues, then it is probably too early to commit their money to it,” Peroutka said.
Schuh sent two supplemental budgets to the council Friday as he tried to increase mental health staffing in schools and speed revitalization construction at three struggling elementary schools.
The first supplemental budget was an additional $640,000 in mental health staffing. A recent decision in favor of the Anne Arundel County Fire Department Union against the county freed money to pay for the staffing.
The other budget rearranges capital budget money to move the elementary school funding up from fiscal year 2020 to fiscal year 2019.
This means Richard Henry Lee, Edgewater and Tyler Heights elementary schools all will receive construction funding faster. County officials said the decision won’t cause any debt affordability problems.
Both of these supplemental budgets have been a response to public comments as parents and students have advocated for more mental health staffing. These calls were the loudest in the wake of a school shooting at Great Mills High School in Southern Maryland.
Revitalization has been ongoing for the three elementary schools, but county officials had bypassed the schools as they funded the new Crofton High School and other projects.
The council has been receptive. In conversations with The Capital, some members of the council were already considering moving up the elementary funding and increasing mental health staffing.