School System Dispute Over $5M Settled with County Coffers
Councilman warns school officials there will be retaliation next budget season.
A $5 million feud between the Anne Arundel County Council and the Anne Arundel County Board of Education appeared to be settled Monday by withdrawing the needed funds from the county's reserves.
That didn't sit well with Councilman John Grasso (R-2nd District), of Glen Burnie, who again threatened the school system with cuts during the next budget session.
"I hope they're watching tonight, because I'll tell you what, you can bet I'm going to have one heck of a large appetite next year—$5 million worth," Grasso said. "And I'd assume that most of my colleagues will pretty much want to show who's running the show, and it's not them."
Earlier this month, the council sparred with a school system representative over a $5 million bill the council thought was already paid.
During budget discussions in May, the county and school system purportedly came to an agreement that a missing $5 million from the maintenance of effort—the minimum county payment for schools—would be taken out of the schools construction fund.
But in August, things changed, and the county was put on notice by the state that they were in violation and had to find a way to repay the school system.
On Monday, the council approved a new agreement. Instead of using the money from the school system's construction fund, it would come out of the county's reserves.
Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond said the school system had expressed "no appetite" in going along with the previous agreement.
Councilman Jamie Benoit (D-4th District) of Crownsville, criticized the school system for not being a "team player" in resolving the issue. Schools spokesman Bob Mosier said they were simply following the state's recommendation, which he called the ultimate arbiter of maintenance of effort.
“We are pleased that the Council chose a course that provides the additional money to our students as required by the State Board of Education, but disappointed it was accompanied by needless political theater on the part of some that simply doesn’t serve our children well," Mosier said.
County Auditor Teresa Sutherland said once the $5 million for the school system was taken out of reserves, it would leave about $1.5 million. That amount has been earmarked for overtime pay for firefighters, but Sutherland said it likely wouldn't be enough to cover overtime for the remainder of the year.
On the bright side, Hammond indicated the state had distributed more income tax than it had budgeted for this year, which could leave the county's general fund better off than anticipated.
This article was updated to provide an additional comment from Mosier.