The Anne Arundel County Board of Education on Wednesday adopted a $1.01 billion school system budget for fiscal year 2014, but not before members held a discussion about why they were requesting 3.2 percent more in funding this year.
The operating budget, passed by a vote of 8-1, will now be sent to Anne Arundel County Government, who must then prepare a budget package for a final vote by the funding body, the Anne Arundel County Council. The council is scheduled to receive its budget proposal by May, and vote on it by June 30.
Anne Arundel County school board member Amalie Brandenburg was the lone dissenter in the 2014 operations budget vote. Brandenburg said she could not vote in favor of a budget that would ultimately be rejected by the council.
"I cannot in good faith vote for a request that we all know will never be funded," Brandenburg said. "To ask for an increase in funding that we all know isn't available not only gives the appearance that we are not a team player, but also gives the perception that we are not aware of the bigger picture."
Board vice president Teresa Milio Birge gave the first retort, saying that students deserved the best, and schools are beginning to lose experienced teachers due to low-paying positions. Without funding the full amount requested, they would have to hire "third-, fourth- and fifth-rate" teachers, she said.
"We're a wealthy county, and we need to start acting like one," Birge said. "We do have the resources for all of our citizens, for all of our needs, if we choose to make the decisions in this county that would provide them."
Board president Andrew Pruski backed Birge up, saying this year's budget was fair, and the county could either invest now, or pay for the repercussions of an underfunded school system later.
What's In the Budget?
The school system's operating budget is consistently the single largest budget in the county government's portfolio. Weighing in at $1,013,884,000, it represents a 3.2 percent increase over last year's budget request of $986 million, of which $982 million was funded by the county. It's also the first schools budget in Anne Arundel County to ever cross the $1 billion mark.
The high amount is a result of growing enrollment numbers throughout the county and the needs associated with that increase, school officials said. The budget also includes $16 million in employee raises.
The $239,850,000 capital budget, which includes construction projects, was approved by unanimous vote shortly after the operating budget's approval.
The capital budget includes funding for improvements at 10 schools across the county, including:
- Point Pleasant Elementary School
- Phoenix Academy
- Annapolis Elementary School
- Crofton Elementary School
- Mills-Parole Elementary School
- West Annapolis Elementary School
- Benfield Elementary School
- Lothian Elementary School
- Rolling Knolls Elementary School
- Severna Park High School
Mounting tensions between the school board and the County Council could make this budget year more dramatic than usual. Two councilmen have indicated the school board would not be given additional leeway in the upcoming budget season.
In October 2012, a $5 million feud between the County Council and the school board was settled by withdrawing the needed funds from the county's reserves. The conflict was over a $5 million bill relating to the state's 'maintenance of effort' requirement that the council thought was already paid.
The solution to that problem didn't sit well with Councilman John Grasso (R-2nd District), of Glen Burnie, who threatened the school system with cuts during the next budget session.
"I hope they're watching tonight, because I'll tell you what, you can bet I'm going to have one heck of a large appetite next year—$5 million worth," Grasso said in October. "And I'd assume that most of my colleagues will pretty much want to show who's running the show, and it's not them."
At that same meeting, Councilman Jamie Benoit (D-4th District), of Crownsville, said the board had “unnecessarily politicized education” in the county.
“I'm guessing that since you won’t acquiesce, we will find $5 million, but it'll probably be the last $5 million the Board of Ed gets in a long time,” Benoit said. “I hope you all are ready to explain to the students why this thing is happening this year, the year after, and the year after that.”