Although he will not assume office for two more weeks, Prince George's County Executive-elect Lawrence J. Hogan already appears to be on a collision course with the county's school system and board of education.
Hogan, who has repeatedly criticized what he saw as wasteful duplications in county operations and services, says "there is no way" he will approve a large budget increase for the school board next year unless the school district merges its computer system, design and contracting services and other operations with those of the county.
School board members and budget directors are saying, however, that such consolidations of services would waste, not save money, and that they could result in violations of state and federal statutes.
School budget planners and county officals have said that the school system, which annually spends about 60 percent of the county budget, will need at least $17.9 million more this year than last to maintain services at their current level, and may possibly require as much as $20 million or more.
But in an interview this week, Hogan said that school officals were "just dreaming."
"Let them eliminate their computer system which duplicates what the county has." Hogan said. "Let them eliminate their design and contract department which duplicates the country's and their health programs. Then we'll talk about increasing their budget."
Hogan's challenge to the board is not new. Early in his administration, former county executive William F. Gullett - now a member of Hogan's transition team - also asked the school board to merge its computer system with the county. After several studies and counter-studies by the county and school auditors, the Board of Education flatly refused.
Under the county charter, the school board has the final authority to determine its own operations and services. The county executive and County Council, however, determine the final limits of the school budget.
"I can't force (the board) to do anything." Hogan said. "But I can tell them how much money they are going to get, and they may have to do some of these things to work within their budget."
I'm happy to hear that the incoming executive understands that the Board of Education, under the county charter, is a separate government agency, and the county executive is not empowered to take it over," responded school board chairman Norman Saunders.
"The Board of Education will submit this year - as we have every year a bare-bones budget," Saunders said. "And the county executive will just have to look at it."
School board members and officials said they were willing to study Hogan's proposal, but that the reasons the proposal was rejected years ago - confidentiality laws applying to student records and the need for ready access to a computer for school programs - still apply.
"What some people think," Feeney said, "is that the schools just use the computer for business records and administration. But there are also many school study program that use the computer."
"There is also confidential information about student records in the computer," Feeney said, "and federal statutes prevent us from allowing that to be disclosed. So if we merged the computer systems and yet had to keep separate operations on it to protect student records, I don't know how much good it would do."
Assistant Superintendent Eliot Robertson, in charge of the school district's budgeting and finance, was more direct. "It wouldn's save any money to merge the computer or these other services," he said. "In fact, it would worsen the situation."
Robertson said that merging the county and school computers would simply result in "putting one staff on top of another." The same school personnel would be needed, he said, to manage the school's computer services.
In addition, Robertson said, the school district would need new employees to act as liaisons and runners between county computer operators and school staff members. Delays and confusion would be common, and overall school computer costs, he said, would ultimately increase.
"To my mind there's no point in having a computer system that is remote from one's staffs people and problems," Robertson said.
Feeney pointed out that the school district is already making final arrangements to merge its garage and home vehicle operations with those of the county. "We can only do one thing at a time," Fenney said.
"I can see a situation developing where (the board and Hogan) are immediately becoming adversaries," said board member A. James Golsto. "That's why I wish we had fiscal autonomy from the county - so we could bite our own bullets."