The Anne Arundel Board of Education has unanimously adopted a $643.8 million operating budget for the new school year that will among other things, put more emphasis on advanced learning opportunities for bright students and all-day kindergarten for students in struggling areas.
The new budget, which represents a 6.7 percent increase over current spending, now goes to County Executive Janet S. Owens. The county executive must draw up her own budget request for the school system and submit it to the County Council for consideration.
New priorities such as textbooks are allowed for in the budget approved by the school board. It also allocates $200,000 to be combined with federal funds to create all-day kindergarten classes at 10 struggling elementary schools.
The budget also includes $150,151 to establish two International Baccalaureate magnet programs at Old Mill and Annapolis high schools. Superintendent of Schools Eric J. Smith and other school administrators have said they see the prestigious diploma program as a way to challenge students further and to increase their chances for admission to competitive colleges.
The board also adopted a capital budget of $59.7 million, some of which will be used to plan and design a new air conditioning system for Arundel High School and to build a new gym at North County High School. The capital budget would also fund plans for either the renovation of or the construction of a new Harman Elementary School.
Smith, who arrived in Anne Arundel last summer with plans to overhaul the county school system's academic program and to improve overall student performance, especially among poor and minority students, contended that the budget he proposed was mindful of the state and county's tough economic climate. Yet, he said, his spending plan was still goal-oriented.
But some students, teachers and parents argued that Smith's budget was too tight and unnecessarily resulted in the elimination of several key education programs and services such as teacher-mentor positions. Opponents also argued that Smith's initial plan to reduce the number of pupil personnel workers -- the men and women who monitor truancy and provide counseling for students at risk of failing or dropping out -- would devastate struggling students. Still others contended that Smith did not include enough funding in his budget for special education and English as a Second Language programs.
Acknowledging the public opposition, Smith amended his budget proposal to restore some of the mentor-teacher and pupil personnel worker positions he had planned to cut. He also added 27 new teaching positions to his final spending plan. Smith changed his budget plan after learning the school system was in line to receive additional state funding.
Board member Eugene Peterson last week successfully urged his colleagues to amend Smith's budget to include several more mentor-teacher positions, which are in addition to the ones Smith restored. Those positions, he said, were particularly important in light of the teacher shortage that has affected Anne Arundel schools as well as others in the region.
"We're at a point now where if we do not do this," Peterson said, "we are seriously hurting our ability to recruit and attract new teachers."