School budget ready for shaping Howard's proposal just holds the line

February 23, 1993|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

The Howard County school board will decide what to keep in and cut out of next year's operating budget at its meeting today.

"It would be nice to find money for all of the programs the community and the school system needs," said board member Linda Johnston. "Unfortunately, we don't have the money to do it. It's not an easy time to be a board member."

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's $202 million proposal is a hold-the-line budget that includes no money for new programs, save a $100,000 expansion of the human relations department. The proposal represents a $15 million increase -- or 8 percent -- over last year's budget and is largely driven by the new obligation of paying social security costs for employees as well as the opening of two new schools, Mount View Middle and Rockburn Elementary schools.

Although the board has faced budget cuts in the past, there's a chance this year it'll be able to add on -- if only a little, board chairman Dana Hanna said.

"I don't want to look into the future into a crystal ball, but I don't think the board feels as constrained as it did in the past couple years," he said.

The school board faces several issues this year, including a need for more staff development, more teachers for foreign-born students and more psychologists in schools -- all concerns brought up at two public hearings at which parents, students and teachers got the chance to voice their support for programs and initiatives.

"There are concerns with regards to staff development area," he said. "We've heard much from the community in terms of adding to the teacher pool. There are transportation issues, and whether schools will open early is a budget question this year."

The board will decide today whether to restore $500,000 that Superintendent Michael E. Hickey took out in transportation, a move that would force high schools to start 15 minutes earlier, at 7:30 a.m.

Board members are concerned for the safety of students who would have to stand in the dark at bus stops as well as for the convenience of teachers, who have said they will have day care problems if starting times are changed.

The board faces hard decisions, said board vice-chairwoman Susan Cook. "How do you say this program is worthy and this one's not?" she asked. "They're all worthy."

State and county cutbacks have affected the school system, which sustained more than $11 million in cuts in the past two years.

The school system implemented an early retirement plan last year to save $850,000 and has cut $2 million in book, material and equipment purchases as well as $1.5 million in building and grounds maintenance.

"We're building from what was devastated, not from the real budget," Ms. Cook said. "We need staff development. We need more psychologists, because I don't think we have enough psychologists to serve our students," she said.

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