Arundel budget hearing draws crowd to talk about schools

At a crowded County Council budget hearing Monday night, Anne Arundel schools Superintendent Kevin Maxwell asked those in the auditorium who had come to voice support for public education to stand.

Nearly everyone stood, joining those already standing along walls and in corners at Old Mill High School in Millersville.

The second of two public hearings on County Executive John R. Leopold's proposed operating and capital budgets went more than three and a half hours on Monday night, focusing mainly on education, as many parents, teachers and students voiced support for their particular schools, advocating for items requested in the school board's budget proposal.

School system and government officials testified as well, including Kurt Svendsen, Anne Arundel's acting budget officer, who said that 51.7 percent of the proposed budget "goes to support the board of education's initiatives." He reiterated what Leopold has long stated, that the budget proposal funds all of the school board's requests except pay raises.

Svendsen then enumerated the items covered in Leopold's capital budget and drew applause when he said that it included funding for projects at Lothian Elementary School and Severna Park High School.

But Maxwell testified that Leopold's proposal "violates the law by failing — for the second consecutive year — to provide $12 million in additional funding required by the state's maintenance of effort law."

The state requires counties to fund per-pupil spending in an upcoming year at the same — or higher — level as the previous year.

"This has been the subject of much of our discussion with this council to date," Maxwell said, "and it is the county executive's actions that have put this council in a very difficult predicament."

Maxwell acknowledged that Leopold's proposed budget funds most of the school board's request save pay raises, but added, "Let me say very clearly that I believe our employees deserve pay raises – just like employees of the police, fire and health departments, the library system, and those elsewhere in county government deserve pay raises."

His comments drew loud applause.

Among those who testified on behalf of their schools were members of the parent association of Edgewater Elementary, which has been the subject of discussion in recent months over air quality concerns.

Jenny Corkill, Edgewater Elementary PTA president, requested Edgewater Elementary be put in the 2013 capital budget feasibility study. "We have been neglected for too long," she said.

Before the budget hearing, scores of teachers gathered at the front of Old Mill High carrying placards that read, "Respect" and "Support Our Schools."

"We would like a secure funding source for Anne Arundel County schools," said teachers' union President Tim Mennuti. "We believe that there are monies there that can be used, and they need to be used in the most economical fashion, and they need to do what's best for everybody."

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