School board tries to s-t-r-e-t-c-h it $202 million budget under scrutiny

February 10, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

Citing the clamor to reduce class size, increase the number of school psychologists and undertake other changes sought by parents and educators, the chairman of the Howard County school board last night predicted tough times ahead.

"We have competing" demands and a limited amount of money to spend, Chairman Dana Hanna said. "The revenue projections are fairly tight."

Board member Sandra French said that the good news is that "revenues [in the county] are up 6 percent, but the bad news is there's not enough money to cover all of the needs and expenses."

Their comments came as the board began work on next year's proposed $202 million school budget.

The board met for nearly two hours last night and questioned education officials about programs and costs.

Board members flipped through the pages of Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's spending plan, raising questions about the costs of mileage reimbursement, education conferences and bus transportation of students.

Last night's meeting was the first of three work sessions during which the board will discuss where to add to the budget and where to cut.

The board took up its work after two nights of public hearings last week at which parents, teachers and students pleaded for more money and voiced support for pet programs.

Last night, the board discussed smaller budget items such as $10,000 for equipment maintenance and larger items such as $700,000 in wages for pupil personnel workers. Board members asked why $65,000 in consulting fees was being sought for the Office of Human Relations when none was requested last year.

"I know we're bringing in consultants, but when I looked at the figures, I choked," said board member Susan Cook. "What are we spending it on?"

Superintendent Hickey responded that the money would pay for materials and supplies, and represented start-up costs "because we are undertaking such a massive" expansion of the human relations program, including workshops for teachers and administrators and expanded peer mediation to reduce conflicts among students.

"We could do with more, but under the circumstances, this is a realistic figure," he said.

Board members were particularly concerned about the proposed 15-minute change in high school starting time, which would save $450,000 in transportation costs. Currently classes start at 7:45 a.m. and Mr. Hickey wants to change that to 7:30 a.m. If the change is approved, the school system would be able to use the buses it now has for longer periods and would not have to hire more outside bus operators for class trips.

"When you decide to push back school starting time 15 minutes, did anyone look at the tardiness [rate among students]?" asked board member Deborah Kendig.

Board member Linda Johnston asked whether school officials, in proposing the time change, had considered teachers and other school staff who could have problems with day care for their children, "particularly if a staff member lives outside the county and has to drive in."

Ms. Cook asked for more information.

"If we choose not to go with the 15-minute opening, I need figures as to what this will cost -- how many buses, how many bus routes, whatever," she said.

The board meets again next Tuesday and Thursday for additional work on the budget. It is expected to approve a new budget on Feb. 23.

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