More state budget cuts portend change, hard bargaining for schools System braces for loss of at least $2.3 million in aid

September 27, 1992|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Staff Writer

The school system will have to do some hard negotiating for more county money to offset losses in state aid, Harford's superintendent says.

"Be prepared for cuts. There will be a tremendous financial challenge to hold on to what we have," said Superintendent Ray R. Keech, speaking Monday night at the school board's first educational forum this school year.

The county school system, which accounts for about half of the county budget, expects to lose at least $2.3 million in state aid this year. Its current total budget is $141 million.

About 40 people, including parents, principals and teachers, gathered in the North Harford Middle School cafeteria for the meeting. It concluded a daylong tour of the seven schools in the North Harford area by members of the board of education.

State budget cuts, which could be announced this week, could hurt schools a lot, Mr. Keech said.

"I cut $2.3 million last year, and that was tough to do," he said. "This year, we will have cuts equal or greater."

Mr. Keech said next year did not look much better.

Anne Sterling, school board president, said: "We have to figure out how to do the best we can and make our resources work for us."

George Lisby, school board member and past board president, said the way the school system allocates money may have to change.

He said Harford County schools traditionally have distributed resources, including teachers, on a per-student basis. Instead, Mr. Lisby said, each school should be viewed individually, with resources allocated according to needs, not just numbers.

"Every school doesn't need the same thing," he said. "Some schools may need an added math teacher or reading teacher. We need to look at how the kids are progressing."

The audience quizzed the school board on several topics. One parent asked if the "tremendous amount of money" used to pay for Maryland School Performance Program tests could be redirected "where we really need it."

The tests are designed to measure students' skills in a variety of subjects at three grade levels.

"If you are waiting for the MSPP tests to go away, don't hold your breath," Mr. Keech said. "This is one area the state budget cuts are not going to touch."

Mr. Keech said the MSPP tests "still had a few kinks," but praised them, saying they set higher standards of student achievement.

Mike Furniere, 12, asked if participation in the Boy Scouts, the 4-H Club and other non-school activities could count toward the state's new community service requirement.

Mr. Keech said they could, if the state board of education approved Harford's community service program, now being developed.

"We would include all sorts of outside volunteer activities," he said.

Beginning with the freshman class of 1993-94, students in Maryland will be required to complete 75 hours of work in their communities to graduate.

In response to another question, Mr. Keech said the county school board would probably keep its one credit of physical education as a high school graduation requirement.

The state dropped its physical education requirement to 1/2 credit. "We can make our requirements stricter than the state requirements," Mr. Keech said.

He said the tour of the schools showed pride and enthusiasm but also showed that some of the older schools needed money for repairs.

For example, he noted Norrisville Elementary, where student enrollment is close to capacity, was built before health suites, computer rooms or special education rooms were incorporated into school design.

"We recognize that the school needs more than a relocatable classroom; it needs an expansion," Mr. Keech said.

Schools across the county need more library technicians, custodial staff and guidance counselors, he said. The school system is also "way behind" in replacing instructional equipment, he said.

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