Schools look for budget trim Howard proposal is under scrutiny

February 17, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

The Howard County Board of Education tried again last night to find ways to trim next year's proposed $202 million school operating budget, questioning educators about needs for specific programs.

As they did in last week's work session, board members asked for details for all proposals, including the increase in the number of kindergarten instructors, the decrease in funding for the home-hospital teaching program, and funding for special education and for instruction in such programs as language arts, science and math.

The board has set another work session for tomorrow morning before it votes Tuesday on the proposed budget, which it will send to County Executive Charles I. Ecker next month.

"Why the decrease?" board member Deborah Kendig asked about the proposed decrease in funding for home tutors from $159,000 this school year to $125,000 next year.

School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey responded that the school system had become more selective about students entering the program since last year's murder of Shirley Rue Mullinix, a teacher who was strangled by a student she was tutoring at the student's home.

"There has been an increased degree of selectivity," he said.

Associate Superintendent James McGowan also said that the proposal is intended to reflect the actual cost of the program, which is expected to increase only a little next year.

Addressing one of the concerns parents raised at budget hearings two weeks ago, Susan Cook, vice chairwoman of the board, asked about more help for foreign-born students. She asked administrators for the number of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) teachers systemwide and was told that Howard County has seven positions for the 43 middle and high schools and no money to buy textbooks for ESOL students.

"I see a problem in the future," Ms. Cook said. "I see some of these students in the middle schools, and I know we're not servicing them as we should be."

Associate Superintendent Joan Palmer agreed. "We're barely touching the surface, and we know they have other problems as well," she said.

Also responding to parents' requests for more school psychologists, board member Sandra French asked whether there was enough. "We heard a lot of testimony that psychologists are overworked and stressed out," she said.

There is roughly one psychologist assigned to every five schools, said Eleonore Krebs, supervisor of the psychologists. "We really should have one psychologist to every two schools," she said, adding that much of their time is consumed with filling out mandatory paperwork.

During the work session, educators also made pitches for their preferences, such as beefing up staff development to train teachers how to deal with special education students as they are "mainstreamed" into the school system.

"There's going to be major problems without staff development," said Alan Lovell, chairman of the special education evaluation committee. "If you're going to go to inclusion, you've got to have staff development," he said.

"We're just trying to find money and where to put it," said Ms. Cooke.

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