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Budget Season Brings Out Passion for Schools

The schools superintendent rails against the county executive in a speech at the second budget hearing.

 

Hundreds of parents and teachers raised their voices in support of a fully funded school system at the Anne Arundel County budget hearing on Monday night.

An estimated 800 people filled the auditorium at  with applause after dozens of parents testified before the County Council during the second hearing on the budget for fiscal year 2013.

The County Council holds the purse strings for the school system, which takes up $572 million of the county's proposed $1.2 billion budget.

Most who testified on Monday implored council members to fully fund the school budget, but had some additional projects in mind for their local schools.

Some of these projects included a replacement for , construction improvements at High Point Elementary, and walkway work at Southern High School.

President of the Teachers Association Tim Mennuti asked the councilmen to keep teachers in mind when voting. was removed by Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold in his version of the budget, which is now before the County Council for a vote.

Mennuti said adequate compensation is needed to stay competitive with other counties and to keep good teachers in the classroom.

“What happens on the day that the keepers of the knowledge wake up and realize that they can no longer afford to be teachers?” Mennuti asked. “The ball, gentlemen, is in your court.”

Superintendent vs. County Executive

Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell came prepared with an eight-minute long speech that railed against Leopold.

Maxwell said the county executive had “abdicated his legal obligation” by underfunding the school system, yet again.

not included in this year’s or next year’s proposed budgets. The state’s maintenance-of-effort law is the minimum amount counties are required to fund local schools.

Later in his message, Maxwell brought Leopold up again while cautioning the council against playing political games with school construction projects.

“The picking and choosing of projects that the county executive has engaged in shows the state of Maryland a lack of consistent and planned support on the part of our county,” Maxwell said.

The school system has a method for prioritizing school construction projects, but during budget deliberations, that list can be shuffled by the County Council.

Construction Priorities

Parents of (EES) sought to move their school’s construction up on that list after reports of mold at the school, overcrowding, and other building deficiencies.

Jenny Corkill, president of the school’s PTA, said EES was 60 years old and it has been years since the last renovation.

Design renovations aren’t scheduled for another four years. But requests to move that work ahead on the construction list have been rebuffed by the school system’s growing, $1.5 billion construction backlog, Corkill said.

“Unfortunately, our children are caught in the middle of a political budget allocation struggle,” Corkill said.

Yet another south county parent, Nicole Vales, of Shady Side Elementary School, advised the council to stick with the program, and not tamper with the school improvement schedule.

Shady Side is also experiencing problems with mold and improvements to the school aren’t slated until 2015 or beyond, Vales said.

But they’ll wait it out, because that’s part of the process, she said.

“We are not asking for more. We are asking for what is fair—to keep our place in line,” she said. “How can I tell these other parents who are ahead of us in line that our children are more important? I don’t believe that.”

The Anne Arundel County Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Monday for its next regular session.

Budget amendments will be considered at a special session scheduled for May 24 and the full budget vote is scheduled for May 30. 

Heather Macintosh May 15, 2012 at 07:17 PM
Way to go, parents and teachers! You probably had other things you'd rather be doing Monday evening. Thank you for speaking up for county schools. I hope the County Executive and County Council heard you, and those of us who sent emails, and will fully fund the schools budget. Also, I hope the County will keep politics out of school construction spending and stick to the independent MGT study that evaluated our schools in 2006-2007 and determined which ones need renovation and replacement... and in which order. The school system needs to be able to maintain a systematic procedure for school construction in order to plan and to operate effectively. To allow communities to lobby their way to the front of the line is not the way to run a government or a school system.
Jenny corkill May 15, 2012 at 09:19 PM
The MGT Study needs to be reviewed. The study is outdated and flawed. An example of this is, using 2005 enrollment numbers that are now completely different then the actual numbers today. Enrollment as it applies to capacity was heavily weighted in this study. So should we continue to stick to the study just because that is what we have done in the past? Regardless of current conditions and how those conditions affect children and teachers today? We will continue to advocate for our children because it is the right thing to do!
Angie Carroll May 16, 2012 at 06:37 PM
The MGT was meant to be a 10 year plan. The order should be re-evaluated at the ten year mark, 2015. Unfortunately for most schools and their students (like mine) on the list, renovations needed have ballooned in scope from the list that MGT compiled. For example, most elementary school renovations were for a few million each to include simple renovations and additions, not the $25 - $30 million each that the school system is currently using. Belle Grove ES was listed by MGT to cost $16.9 mill, the amount approved $22.3 mill; Overlook ES was estimated at $6.5 mil, $18.7 was spent; Pershing Hill ES was listed at $17.2 mil, $22.6 was spent...and these were the worst-condition buildings on the list. From there, in the lesser Cat 1 and then 2,s & 3,s...the renovations required were less, thus the costs were supposed to go down. Not what is happening. Lothian ES was listed as a replacement at $24.7 mil, but now it has ballooned to $32.7 million, Crofton ES renovated in 2003 was $ 9 mil, now $28.4 mill., Mills Parole ES renovated in '94 was set at $7.9 mil but $30.5 mil is listed now. My point is this - this study was produced to create an order, which it did in a non-biased manner. Each school was evaluated in and of itself then compared.
Angie Carroll May 16, 2012 at 06:39 PM
yes enrollment #'s are way off - but that is not the major problem with this system. The problem is that renovations are treated like the lottery - winners get everything. These students and staff deserve to have their issues addressed, however all must be mindful of the thousands of students waiting behind them. Less bells, less pretty stuff - that means a school should get an addition wing with a gym, central A/C added and new floors only, in lieu of a brand new school. Reuse the technology in the school, do not purchase all new. There are 24 ES schools that have received nothing since they opened in the 60's and 70's. Others, like Edgewater ES and Richard Henry Lee ES have been renovated, though long ago ( EES '64 & '85 and RHLES '72). This doesn't even touch on the middle and high schools which many are in poor condition, with thousands of students and require lots of millions to fix. There is not going to be a funding fairy to drop $1 Billion in our laps to fix these issues. Ever. And to change this order will cause complete chaos and hold even more schools up. The best we can hope for is as much County funding as possible and some modesty.
Matthew May 16, 2012 at 07:50 PM
You need to be a little more careful with definitions. If you look at the MGT report, and as you reference 'worst-condition', using that criteria as specifically called out in the report: Belle Grove ranked #2. Overlook ranked #30. Pershing ranked #40. Lotian ranked #9. Crofton ranked #47. Where did Edgewater Elementary rank for Condition? #3. Carrie Wheedon was #1 (but isn't County owned), Belle Grove was #2. That is using the Condition Score as defined in the report. This is not opinion. It is just looking at the data in the MGT report. The real problem? There was a lot of school constuction in the late 60's and early 70's. Built with a 40 year life expectancy. Guess what? 40 years is up and it is time to pay the Piper. The building boom has now hit the replacement Echo, and Executive Leopold doesn't like the sound of that. There has been five decades to plan for this, but instead Executive Leopold (and others, he is not alone in this) has pushed a low-tax, high growth agenda that has dug a pit that grows deeper by the year. At some point soon, that pit will swallow the county.
kerry petz May 17, 2012 at 08:41 PM
There are many good points being made by all. Arnold Elementary School is in the same boat and have yet to figure out the best solution since there are so many issues for so many of us. In lieu of the funding fairy i agree that being modest in the upgrades could make a huge impact on costs. And if anyone knows where that fairy is please send her our way.

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