Alone among the five county school board members, Vice Chairman DanaF. Hanna sees a silver lining -- the chance to create a more efficient school system -- in the financial crisis that led Superintendent Michael E. Hickey to propose eliminating staff positions and cutting services in next year's budget.
Hickey introduced a $183.7 million budget proposal for 1992-1993 last week that represents a 3.9 percentincrease over the $176.8 million the board has available to spend this year, but $17 million less than the budget proposal he introduced one year ago.
In Hanna's view, the budget crunch gives the board an opportunityto rethink the most efficient ways to operate county schools.
"It's not totally unhealthy," he said. "Systems grow big, they grow fat,they die. So this is just a diet."
The proposed budget does not include money for salary increases for school employees. The board is currently negotiating with unions representing secretaries and instructional assistants and maintenance and custodial workers. It expects to reopen negotiations on the salary issue soon with the Howard County Education Association, which represents teachers, principals and supervisors.
Each 1 percent salary increase for all school system employees adds $1.2 million to the budget. For employees represented byHCEA, each 1 percent increase adds $930,000. Hickey pledged that in 1992-1993, negotiated salary increases will be honored. This year, county government budget cuts left the board without enough money to cover the teachers' 6 percent raise and 2 percent experience increase. No school employees received raises.
Hanna said he agreed with Hickey's proposals to spend more on plant maintenance in 1992-1993 and to keep teacher-pupil ratios at present levels rather than increase class sizes.
Hickey's budget would eliminate 34 staff positions, most of them in the system's central administration, but would add 52 teachers to accommodate growth without having to increase class sizes. How many employees will be laid off is uncertain, since administrative employees who have teaching certificates may fill some classroom vacancies.
James R. Swab, president of HCEA, refused to comment on the proposed elimination of staff positions.
All five board memberssaid they expect to give Hickey's budget proposal a tough item-by-item scrutiny, and a majority would not rule out increasing the budget request that will go to County Executive Charles I. Ecker on March 16.
Both Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig and member Ruth Y. Hutchinson said they were concerned by a proposed reduction of 2.5 psychologistsin the current staff of 23 and 1.5 pupil personnel workers from the staff of 11.
"With the downturn in the economy and family troublesincreasing, it seems to me that children's troubles will increase," Kendig said. Pupil personnel workers and psychologists are integral parts of the safety net for children, she added.
Hutchinson agreed and said that she would look to the General Assembly to provide additional revenue rather than see the school budget take more cuts.
"The legislature just has to come up with additional funds," she said. "We can't continue to run a school system with the money going down each year."
Reducing the psychological staff will mean longer waitsfor students to be evaluated for special services, Hickey said. Psychologists now make weekly visits to schools. Next year it may be every 10 days, he said.
Board member Karen B. Campbell said she wants to take a look at per-pupil expenditures, particularly in math and science. "If we (the United States) are going to be No. 1 in science and math and if we're spending less, I'm going to ask how you're going to do that," she said.
Board member Susan J. Cook plans to continue lobbying the legislature for additional money, but said she has notdecided whether she would favor having the board ask for more money in the budget it sends to the county government.
The county share of Hickey's budget proposal would be $142.3 million, up 2.7 percent from this year's county allocation of $138.5 million. If the legislature restores maintenance of effort requirements that local governmentswere allowed to waive in 1991-1992, the county would not be allowed to cut its per-pupil support below current levels.
Ecker said the superintendent's budget proposal seemed reasonable to him at first glance, but added that he could not comment specifically because he hasnot yet read the document.
COMPARISON OF FISCAL YEARS 1992 AND 1993
DEPARTMENT.. .. .. ..'92 BUDGET.. '93 PROPOSAL.% CHANGE
Administration.. .. .$7,872,500.. .. 7,236,430.. ..-8.1
Instruction.. .. .. .98,955,180.. ..99,052,820.. ..+0.1
Pupil services.. .. .. .727,700.. .. ..685,700.. ..-5.8
Health services.. .. .1,172,460.. .. 1,246,290.. ..+6.3
Transportation.. .. .11,732,910.. ..10,783,940.. ..-8.1
Operation of plant.. 14,994,340.. ..15,336,720.. ..+2.3
Maintenance of plant..5,462,330.. .. 7,197,330.. .+31.8
Fixed charges.. .. ..19,814,300.. ..20,831,160.. ..+5.1
Community services.. .1,628,640.. .. 2,105,450.. .+29.3
Capital outlay.. .. .. .869,000.. .. ..640,000.. .-26.4
Special education.. .17,521,800.. ..18,726,440.. ..+6.3
Total.. .. .. .. ..180,751,160*..183,743,280**....+1.7
* Does not reflect $3.9 million in additional cuts
** Does not include any money for teacher salary increases
to be negotiated
Source: Howard County Schools