The superintendent of Anne Arundel County's public schools has proposed a nearly $1 billion operating budget for the 2013 fiscal year, about $50 million more than the system was allotted this year.
"We have been good fiscal stewards of the money allocated to us each year," said Superintendent Kevin Maxwell to members of the school board last week. "We have made difficult decisions, such as declining to add general fund positions to our workforce … despite the addition of more than 3,000 students over the last four years."
Anne Arundel is educating 76,300 students this year, Maxwell said, and is asking the County Council to provide the school system $986.2 million, which is about $49.5 million more than the panel allotted to education in the current budget.
Maxwell said that the school system would like to add 62 teachers to reduce class sizes. The requested funding increase will not be put toward these teaching positions, he said. The money for more instructors would come from savings and reduced base salaries that are a result of permanent turnover.
Two-thirds of the additional $50 million would be used to pay for negotiated agreements with the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, the Association of Educational Leaders, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and the Secretaries and Assistants Association of Anne Arundel County.
Higher fuel and transportation costs would be covered by $7 million of the new funds; $3.5 million would be used toward expanding the county's two charter schools, adding an 11th-grade class at Chesapeake Science Point, and fourth- and eighth-grade groups at Monarch Academy; and just under $3 million would go to textbooks, according to the budget proposal. Any leftover funds would be put toward launching an arts-focused magnet high school program. A hiring freeze for positions not in the classroom will continue for the sixth year.
The superintendent's budget also requests $198.2 million for capital expenditures, which is largely targeted for construction at elementary schools.
Maxwell — whose request for a $50 million increase is far below his first proposed budget as superintendent, for fiscal 2007, when he asked for a 17 percent increase that equaled $133 million — is expecting pushback from County Executive John R. Leopold and fiscal conservatives on the County Council for requesting an increase.
"I fully realize this will raise some eyebrows, but I refuse to bow to political criticism and deviate from my belief that we have a moral, ethical, and legal obligation to seek this money from the county, which is our funding authority," Maxwell said to school board members.
Dave Abrams, a spokesman for Leopold, said that the final amount allocated to the school system will be less than the superintendent's request, as it has been in past years.
Under Maryland law, a mechanism called "maintenance of effort" requires counties to maintain education funding at the same level per student as the previous year. Last week, the Maryland State Department of Education sent a letter to Leopold, informing him that the county — according to documents filed with the state agency by Maxwell — failed to meet this obligation during fiscal 2012 by about $12 million. If this is the case, the school system would be docked $3.8 million by the state during the next fiscal year.
Leopold believes that a 2009 opinion by the Maryland attorney general's office gives him the ability to include debt service in the "maintenance of effort" calculation, and those figures were not included in the certification document that Maxwell submitted to the state, Abrams said. The county executive plans to appeal the state's decision and intends to include debt service in the maintenance calculation for the coming fiscal year, he said.
Eugene Peterson, a nine-year member of the school board, says Leopold is performing financial sleight of hand by claiming debt service — principal and interest payments on bonds used primarily for building projects — as part of the maintenance-of-effort computation. None of that money goes toward the operation of the schools, he said, and should not be counted. He speculated that the dispute could end up in court.
The county's board of education has scheduled two public hearings for residents to comment on the superintendent's proposed budget, on Jan. 10 at Old Mill High School, 600 Patriot Lane, in Millersville, and on Jan. 12 in the board room of the Carol Sheffey Parham Building, 2644 Riva Road, in Annapolis. Both hearings will begin at 7 p.m.
A workshop on the budget will be held at 6 p.m. Jan. 24 in the Parham Building. It will be open to the public, but no testimony will be taken. Comments on the proposed budget are being accepted on the Anne Arundel County public schools website.
The Anne Arundel County school board is expected to finalize a budget recommendation in mid-February before sending it to the county executive, who will deliver his budget proposal to the County Council the following month.