Howard schools eye cost cuts, 59 layoffs

January 30, 1991|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,Evening Sun Staff

The Howard County Board of Education is considering the superintendent's revised budget proposal to lay off 59 employees and trim $10.5 million from his original plan.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey sounded pessimistic last night as he unveiled the plan during a board work session. He said the county's budget problems mean the school system probably will have to scale back its programs and abandon efforts to make improvements.

"I know the concept of program reductions is foreign to Howard County, especially reductions of this magnitude," said Hickey, who oversees a system that has flourished in recent years.

The superintendent's cost-cutting plan would reduce his $200.8 million budget proposal to $190.3 million. It would trim administrative costs by $1.5 million and cut instructional expenses by $5.3 million.

Among the 59 jobs slated for elimination are 12 teaching positions in the system's program for gifted and talented students and 16 "special needs" slots that help the system address staffing problems.

Hickey said the cuts would scuttle a plan to spend $431,200 that would have allowed high schools to add seventh-period classes. He said the system would delay the purchase of athletic and music equipment, drastically cut field trips and no longer provide money to keep school gyms open on weekends.

He said other cuts include school-hour staff development, scrapping 190 of 216 new computers for the schools and the competitive grants program and halving the amount of money used to transport non-public school students to their schools. He said the plan would not affect the size of classes.

James Swab, president of the Howard County Education Association, remained optimistic about the county's ability to raise money and avoid reductions, but he said he was disturbed by the prospect of layoffs.

"Our priority is to try to save as many jobs as possible," Swab said.

Thomas Bruner, principal of the Swansfield Elementary School in Columbia, said the cuts would "have a significant impact on instruction."

Denise Levitine, president of the Bollman Bridge Elementary PTA, said she was disturbed about cuts in the gifted and talented program and worried that students would not be able to get additional help in reading.

The school system has fallen victim to budgetary problems facing the county, which is projecting a nearly $18 million deficit this year and a $32.5 million revenue shortfall in fiscal 1992.

Hickey last month proposed a fiscal 1992 budget that is $21 million higher than this year's $179.6 million spending plan. But County Executive Charles I. Ecker told school officials he would not add to the $140.5 million county share being provided this year, which would leave a $17 million funding gap.

So, even with the $10.5 million in reductions, the county would need to find an additional $6.5 million to cut.

The superintendent outlined a scenario for a $12.6 million reduction that would postpone for one year the scheduled fall openings of a new elementary school in the Clarksville area and an Ellicott City-area middle school.

There was a glimmer of good news. The superintendent noted that county officials yesterday indicated they would provide an additional $5.6 million, but Board Chairman Deborah Kendig said legislation in the General Assembly could subtract $800,000 from the state's $40 million contribution to the budget.

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