By Joe Burris, The Baltimore Sun
6:07 PM EST, January 5, 2012
Anne Arundel County school officials are seeking public support for Superintendent Kevin Maxwell's proposed budget, which the county government has signaled will not be fully funded, during hearings and workshops next week.
Last month, Maxwell recommended a $986.2 million operating budget for fiscal year 2013 that, among other things, requests authority to fill 62 additional teaching positions.
School officials said the request is $49.5 million more than the fiscal 2012 budget approved by the County Council, with $33.8 million of that to fulfill contract agreements. It also includes $3.5 million for charter school expansions and $3 million for textbooks.
After Wednesday's board meeting, which included a two-hour discussion about Maxwell's proposal to redistrict students at Central, Davidsonville and Mayo elementary schools, the superintendent said he expects a lot of debate over the budget.
"I think, by and large, the majority of our parents and our business partners and everybody don't have concerns about the board's support for the budget," Maxwell said. "There's not as much concern about the board as there is about the County Council and the county executive.
"I would expect that whatever testimony we see at our upcoming budget hearings for the board, you will see more people than that come to the County Council," he said.
County Executive John R. Leopold said the $986 million that Maxwell is requesting "represents 82 percent of the entire operating budget of Anne Arundel County, and it highlights the difficulties faced in managing public school expenses."
Leopold said Maxwell knows that the maximum the school system will receive from the county is the amount needed to meet the state mandate to provide the same per-pupil funding for the coming fiscal year as for the current year.
"It is clearly unhinged to reality to negotiate union contracts which he knows with certainty will not be funded," Leopold said. "I have a responsibility to make sure that the quality of life that citizens have come to expect is provided in all the other agencies in county government."
The budget hearings and workshops are scheduled for Tuesday at Old Mill High School in Millersville and Thursday at the Parham Building in Annapolis. Both hearings start at 7 p.m.
Maxwell said the school system will continue to promote the progress it has made in improving education for county students, noting increases in SAT scores, magnet program attendance and scholarship offers.
He scoffed at those, particularly those in county government, who criticize the school system, whose funding comprises half of the county's budget, for continuing to seek increases in lean economic times.
"We have over 10,000 employees. How many does the county have? How many facilities do I have?" Maxwell asked. "Those are the kinds of questions that I think are difficult for us to pose sometimes because we look defensive.
"But our position has always been that we are going to make our case that what we're offering is a very high-quality public education, and we're going to continue to offer that to the best of our ability," Maxwell said. "It's one thing for people to say they support public education. It's another thing for them to provide the resources that a high-quality public education takes."
Leopold said, "There are a number of jurisdictions throughout the nation where the per-pupil expenditures are low but the education product is high. It's not necessarily a correlation between monetary inputs and outputs. Clearly, the resources are important, and we try to provide the resources necessary for a quality education, but there's got to be recognition that the school board is only one part of county government."
Maxwell, who began his tenure as superintendent in 2006, said his budget proposals are consistent with meeting the goals outlined to him when he was hired.
"I didn't come here to be average. I didn't come here to get by," he said. "I came here because that's what I was asked to do, to come here and build a great school district. They wanted to be considered the best in the state of Maryland, and I'm doing my best to get us there."
School board member Eugene Peterson said the hearings and workshops will likely include community concerns that include class size and decaying school structures.
"We have answers [about class size] with the 62 positions that the superintendent has prudently saved resources for, so we put them in the budget with no cost to the taxpayer," Peterson said. "And I think some people are going to say, 'Hey, we need to put more money into public school construction.'
"I think people are generally happy with what we're doing," he said, "but they're concerned about whether we can retain the good quality of teachers we have and give them the kind of facilities they deserve."