Tight Budget Threatens To Silence Orchestras

May 05, 1991|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

Friday may have marked the last annual spring concert for the countyschools' gifted and talented orchestras unless parents of the 140 student musicians foot the bill next year.

It appears unlikely that $7,500 to pay teachers for the countywide elementary, middle and highschool gifted and talented orchestras will be reinstated in the 1991-1992 school budget.

H. Eugene Miller, executive supervisor of fine arts and music, plans to keep the gifted and talented orchestras going through parent fees.

"In talking to a lot of the parents involved this year, they seemed to be willing to do that rather than see it dropped," Miller said last week.

Peggy Secco, whose daughter, Lauren, a Swansfield Elementary fourth-grader who plays in the all-string elementary orchestra, said she has been "very upset" about the budget cut and has written letters to county and school officials to try to keep the orchestra alive.

"I would be more than happy to pay the fee. In fact, I would be more than happy to pay more than my share if there's a child whose parents can't afford it," she said.

Gary Lester, the father of Waterloo Elementary School fourth-grader, Peter Lester, said he too would share the cost to keep the orchestra going. "I think $30 is awful cheap. I would certainly endorse that," he said.

The fee has not yet been set, but Miller estimated that $30 for each student player would cover the cost of the music instructors' time at $16 per hour.

The school system will provide the sheet music. Miller said he would try to find budget money to cover the cost for students whose parents cannot afford the fee, "but we're going to have very low resources."

Other programs that serve larger numbers of students or affect class sizes are ahead of the gifted and talented orchestras for ashare of the $3.1 million County Council members have indicated theymay restore to the school budget. The addition would bring the county's share of the school budget up to this year's level.

The schoolboard, asked by the council last week to list its priorities, agreedby consensus on:

* 26 positions cut from the "teacher pool," a budget allocation that allows school officials to divide high enrollment classes rather than increasing class size or to provide teachers for low-enrollment classes such as calculus. The school board reduced the pool from 38 to 12 teachers this year as part of $12.4 million in cuts to Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's $200.8 million budget proposal. Cost, $701,000.

* Seven resource teachers in language arts, health, mathematics, music, science, social studies and computer-related instruction. Resource teachers share their expertise with classroom teachers, Hickey explained to council members at a Wednesday nightwork session on the school budget. Cost, $304,000.

* 12 teachers for the middle school gifted and talented program. The board halved the number of teachers in the middle school program, planning to eliminate science and social studies classes for gifted and talented students in the next school year. Math and language arts classes would be continued. Cost, $370,000.

* 7.5 custodial workers to staff the two new schools scheduled to open in September, Mayfield Woods Middle and Pointer's Run Elementary. Cost, $143,000.

Total cost of the priority items, $1.5 million. Board and council members also discussed restoring money for textbooks, supplies and materials, but did not seta dollar amount.

The Council and school board are scheduled to meet Tuesday morning to go over the priorities.

Council Chairman C. Vernon Gray, D-3d, offered discouraging words on any salary increasesfor school employees.

Gray's concern with raises stems from a General Assembly bill that requires any school system giving salary increases in 1991-1992 to pay the cost of retirement and Social Security benefits usually picked up by the state government.

"That opens the door," Gray said, for the state to shift these costs to local governments in the future if the counties pick up the costs for the comingfiscal year.

Teachers are "very angry" about the prospect that the 6 percent salary increase negotiated in their contract will not be honored, said James R. Swab, president of the Howard County EducationAssociation.

The union's representative council is scheduled to meet May 14 to discuss possible moves. Swab said the council will lookat curtailing the extra hours teachers put in without pay.

Staff writer James M. Coram contributed to this article.

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