More staff, lower costs urged for school budget Final hearing held on spending plan

February 05, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

A smaller group of parents and teachers showed up at the second and final public hearing last night on the Howard County school system's proposed $202 million operating budget for next year.

About 35 people pleaded for a variety of issues, including more teachers at St. John's Lane Elementary School, more psychologists systemwide and curbing administrative costs, such as consultants fees and mileage reimbursement.

Close to 10 school bus contractors asked the Board of Education for a 3 percent pay increase next year.

"We have not had an increase in our contract for two years now, and we do realize the economical problems in Howard County," said Dale Ashwell, owner of Ashwell's Bus Service. "We are willing to take our share of the cuts, but please don't cut us out altogether."

Barbara Ely, president of the Howard County School Bus Contractors Association, said the 3 percent increase contractors want is still not enough to cover rising maintenance costs. She also asked the board to leave intact the contractors' health and medical benefits.

Pat Hatch, director of the nonprofit, Columbia-based Foreign Information and Referral Network, asked the board to increase the number of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers from the proposed one to three next school year. She said immigrant students in elementary and middle schools now get 45 minutes of ESOL two or three times a week.

"The other 30 hours a week, they are sitting in classes they cannot comprehend," she said.

"If these immigrant children had a physical disability rather than a language handicap, would this level of accommodation be anywhere acceptable under the law?" Ms. Hatch asked. "If the immigrant parents of these children were not virtually voiceless due to their own limited English skills, would there not be more attention to this most vulnerable group of students?"

Patrick Dornan, president of the Howard County Taxpayer's Association, said that central office costs are "outrageously high."

He also criticized the education department for spending too much money on the teaching of diversity.

"We get massive budget increases for multiculturalism, which is nothing more than those who have not made it in American society trying to get back at those of us who have," Mr. Dornan said. "Instead of focusing on social engineering, the school system should focus on [teaching] our children to read and write."

Five parents and psychologists pressed for more psychologists in the schools.

Many students "are falling through the cracks of this school system because of learning and adjustment problems [that] interfere with the school system's ability to meet their individual educational needs," said Nancy Enders, co-president of the Howard County School Psychologist Association.

Jordan Alpert, past president of the PTA at Steven's Forest Elementary School, urged the school board to increase funding for textbooks and supplies, and asserted that per-pupil spending has decreased although the number of students entering county schools has increased.

"This is not a budget that will allow Howard County to keep up with the increasing student population or maintain its standing as the top academic county in Maryland," he said.

Brian S. Jolles asked the school board to continue funding the county's Infant and Toddler Program in the summer.

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