School budget hearing focuses on technology

January 30, 1994|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Staff Writer

Parents in Harford County came to a public hearing on the proposed $184 million school budget looking for a faster route to the information highway.

They expressed concerns about incompatible computer software programs, a lack of computer teachers and the need for computer technicians at Monday's meeting.

Their pleas did not go unheeded.

"The theme is to pay more attention to technology," said Ronald R. Eaton, school board vice president.

Other board members supported him.

"There is a necessity of having a [technology] plan. . . . Until then, we're just throwing money out there," said board member Thomas D. Hess.

At the request of the board, school Superintendent Ray R. Keech said that a report would be presented Wednesday on the school administration's five-year technology plan when the second phase of the hearing is held.

At that time, the participants may still give their views on the schools' proposed operating budget, which calls for $184 million to be spent next year, a 12 percent increase over the current $165 million budget.

The proposal doesn't include salary adjustments because negotiations with teachers unions are incomplete.

The work session will be conducted at 7 p.m. at Southampton Middle School in Bel Air as a follow-up to Monday's four-hour meeting, which adjourned at 11 p.m. after board members decided more time was needed to discuss the plan.

Often unable to agree on where to cut spending in the budget, board members looked closely at each line item.

"The budget is the most important thing we do for the public," Mr. Eaton said. "We do it so the most important customer is served -- that being the child."

The board is expected to vote on the final budget proposal Feb. 14. The budget will then be sent to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, who will identify each county department's allocation before forwarding it to the County Council for final approval.

The council has the option of increasing the school budget.

The school system, which is anticipating $75.9 million from the state and $3.3 million from the federal government, will request $104 million from the county. The rest of the school funds comes from miscellaneous fees and gate receipts at interscholastic events.

The board, expecting it will have to make cuts in the proposal, haggled over various items, including money for an annual education report and budgets for travel and meetings.

Several times, board member George D. Lisby urged members to mark a funding proposal with a "T," for target, to cut or eliminate it from the budget.

"Let's target it if the budget comes back," he said about one request for $25,000 for an annual education report, which was a $24,000 increase over last year's figure.

Dr. Keech, citing a Board of Education survey on what residents thought about schools, supported funds for the report.

"This community is asking us to be proactive with communicating," he said.

Board members weren't so sure the public needed that much contact. "Let's cut it to $10,000," Mr. Eaton said.

Mr. Eaton also targeted several requests for more money to pay for travel and meetings for educators.

"Parents and the superintendent have said that administrators, not all, spend too much time away from school buildings," he said.

Another item that caught the board members' attention was $580,965 for teacher and curriculum development, a jump of $215,605 over last year.

Deborah J. Heiberger, executive director of curriculum and instruction, told the board that there were many reasons for the increase, such as the need to prepare students for the annual Maryland School Performance tests and changes in technology, health, foreign language and multicultural education.

"Curriculum is the heart of our educational program," she told the board.

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