School Board Hears It Loud And Clear: Cut From The Top

Hickey's Budget Calls For Trimming 34 Staff Positions

February 09, 1992|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Staff writer

"The Department of Education has become top-heavy. We have more supervisory personnel now than ever, but we see less of them in the schools. . . . If cuts are needed, let's start at the top."

"Put supervisory personnel in schools in teaching/counseling positions on a rotating basis."

The idea that Howard County's school system could do with fewer top-level administrators has been echoing in responses from teachers and residents to the school board's request for ideas on where to cut.Those suggestions could be raised again at Tuesday night's budget hearing.

County schools will operate with a leaner administrative staff next year if the board ratifies personnel cuts called for in Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's $183.7 million proposed operating budget for 1992-1993. Hickey, though, is not proposing cuts as high on the executive ladder as in neighboring Frederick and Montgomery counties.

Howard board members said they were disappointed in "Don't cut my program" letters or what seemed to be "off the top-of-the-head" suggestions.

"I wish people would designate where the fat is. That would be very helpful to us. Generalizations are no help to us," says board member Ruth Y. Hutchinson.

Board Chairwoman Deborah D. Kendig cited a list from the Centennial High School faculty that included closing Gateway School for students with behavior problems so severe they cannot attend regular classes.

"There was a litany of stuff to get rid of and some of it troubled me because they hadn't thought about it," Kendig said. She wrote back asking the teachers for commenton how they would cope with disruptive students in their classes if Gateway were closed. She said she had not received a reply as of lastweek.

Kendig thanked faculty members from Stevens Forest Elementary for cost-cutting ideas such as using routing slips rather than supplying each staff member with a copy of a memo.

The union that represents teachers, principals and supervisors proposed an early retirement incentive, a proposal Hickey says he will bring to the board next month.

Hickey says it has become "politically correct" to targetcentral administrative staffs in lean times. He says his proposed budget reflects "both an economic and a political correctness judgment that government, education, would have to be reduced in size."

Hickey's budget proposes eliminating the principal on special assignmentand administrative assistant in curriculum, both positions filled byformer high school principals who may now return to school administration or teaching jobs.

The budget calls for eliminating 34 staff positions, most of them at department headquarters on Route 108. But only 5.5 of the 34 are supervisors or administrators, and none has a job title higher than supervisor.

The cuts would bring the centraloffice staff down from 170 employees -- excluding secretarial and clerical workers -- to about 145. That includes technical or non-supervisory workers such as the cable TV program staff and parent liaisons,in addition to the superintendent, four associate superintendents, 14 directors and 48 supervisors, coordinators and specialists who makeup the administrative and supervisory staff.

Hickey says he looked at every position. "We looked at how we could maintain the central nucleus of services we provide," he said.

Howard County's 46 schools have about 31,000 students.

Hickey says he expects to restore the psychologists and pupil personnel worker positions and possibly some of the others or possibly add new positions when the economy gets better.

Hickey is not proposing anything like the major restructuring plan that Superintendent Paul L. Vance is recommending for Montgomery County's school administration in 1992-1993. And he doesn't see the permanent downsizing of central administration staffs that Superintendent Noel T. Farmer envisions in Frederick County.

Vance proposes saving $3.3 million by eliminating 54 central and area office positions, most of them from the 147 associate superintendents, department directors, supervisors, coordinators, administrative assistants and others who make up the system's administrative and supervisory staff.

David Hedges, supervisor of budget services, says about 90 percent of the positions targeted for elimination are mid-level managers and up. Montgomery County's school system has a central office and three area offices to serve 107,400 students in 174 schools. Enrollmentis expected to increase by about 4,600 students next fall.

In Frederick County, which tied with Howard for top ranking in the state onthe Maryland School Performance Program results released in November, Farmer slashed $1.4 million from his $142.3 million 1992-1993 school budget proposal by eliminating 27 central office positions and reducing one to half-time. His cuts includes one associate superintendent, four directors, and six supervisors or assistant supervisors.

"I'm not going to just be cutting people at the lower ranks. I don't think that's fair," Farmer says.

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