with County Executive, Council Benefits Students
By Kevin Maxwell
Superintendent of Schools
Longtime observers of the county budget process may notice a few things missing from the annual spring ritual this year. The contention and desire for absolute control that were constants with the last administration are gone, having been replaced by an atmosphere of collaboration, communication, and collegiality that began with the onset of County Executive Laura Neuman’s tenure and has continued through budget discussions with the County Council.
There is no department, agency, or system that will get everything it wants in the budget the County Council must strike by June 15. The nature of our improving yet still slumbering economy dictates that clearly. However, what I view as the dawning of a new era can do nothing but benefit our students, our school system, and our county as a whole.
The simple act of engaging in genuine discussion about needs – something Ms. Neuman has done since arriving in her post and the County Council continues to do – in turn leads to a better understanding among all parties. Only through that understanding can we begin to turn away from the acrimony of the past and focus on advancing our collective future.
We are in a place today where the tenor and tone that has been set offers a chance for the four key players in this equation – the County Executive, County Council, School Board, and Superintendent – to, as Ms. Neuman said in her budget message, “begin a fresh start as an interconnected team.”
Ms. Neuman’s budget proposal is responsible and reasonable. It addresses key infrastructure issues across our county, and recognizes that our county has, for far too long, balanced its budget on the backs of its employees – including those in our school system. We, like the county, are in the midst of negotiations with our employee groups, and we are struggling to remain competitive in the marketplaces in which we operate. If there are not additional resources forthcoming from the Council, we will have to make some tough decisions and realign funding among categories to fulfill agreements being bargained in good faith, meet other needs, and continue to move our school system forward.
Still, the communication that now exists has landed us in a very good place with regard to our program enhancement requests in this budget proposal. The county Budget Office has worked closely with our staff to adjust a variety of line items, and all of our program enhancement requests are funded at levels we agree with. That means we will be able to launch our first middle school STEM magnet program in the fall, open the new Phoenix Academy to better serve our alternative and special education students, expand the number of schools offering the International Baccalaureate Primary Years Programme, and take our highly successful AVID program schoolwide at Corkran Middle School.
Ms. Neuman’s plan also funds construction at Annapolis, Lothian, Crofton, Mills-Parole, and Rolling Knolls elementary schools; the Phoenix Academy; and Severna Park High School. It also includes design funding for a modernized Benfield Elementary School, additions at Crofton Meadows, Four Seasons, Glen Burnie Park, and Marley elementary schools; open-space classroom enclosures at Severn River Middle School and Annapolis High School; and nearly $5 million for security upgrades across our system.
As importantly, it doesn’t zero out all of the future projects as had been the practice of the former county executive. Instead, funding for feasibility studies and designs at eight schools, including the three at the Old Mill complex, is included in the future years of the six-year plan.
For the first time in seven years, we have a county executive focused on progress, not power plays. The result is a budget proposal that leaves us in a far better place than almost any other in that time. It also signals a brighter future for our children and every resident of our county.
The writer is
superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools
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