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 Old Mill High School 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 Edgewater Elementary, 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. More than $33 million in teacher raises 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.
Maxwell and Leopold have been at odds over a missing $12 million in maintenance-of-effort funding 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.
Parents of Edgewater Elementary School (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.