School board OKs budget

February 23, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

Howard County's school board will ask the County Executive for $213.5 million to operate the school system next school year, when it expects to enroll 1,600 more students and plans to open a new elementary school in Ellicott City.

The board approved its proposed fiscal 1995 budget request yesterday at a two-hour meeting, in which it pinched pennies in some areas and doled out more money in others, including child abuse detection training for new teachers.

The board's budget is roughly $60,000 less than Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposal and reflects a 4.3 percent increase from the current fiscal year's budget.

It does not include money for salary increases for teachers and other employees. School officials hope to have that total Thursday, when they expect to conclude negotiations.

Board members said they were pleased with their decision, although they lamented over programs they were unable to finance. Among these were hiring more high school guidance counselors and extra money for staff development.

"I think we looked at the budget with a critical eye and tried to respond to the concerns in the community for needs, and did [so] in a fiscally responsible fashion," said board Chairman Dana Hanna.

However, there remains "a very large list in the millions of dollars of unfunded requests and needs," he said.

Board member Deborah Kendig said she felt that the budget reflected the concerns of parents and other citizens.

"I feel more comfortable with this budget request than I have for many years," she said. "This one I like."

During the meeting, board members held a lengthy discussion about whether the school system should replace six health assistants with registered nurses, who would be assigned to schools with students who have medical needs. Mr. Hanna and others opposed the idea, saying they felt that registered nurses weren't necessary to meet some of the students' needs.

"We don't need to provide top of the line," Ms. Kendig said. "We don't need to provide the solid gold Cadillacs."

Ms. Kendig said the school system should examine alternative ways of treating students who have medical needs, including hiring licensed practicing nurses or certifying health assistants to do certain medical procedures in the schools.

The board voted unanimously to retain the health assistants and save more than $50,000 in salary costs. It did so with the suggestion that school officials contact the county health department to see whether it can help train health assistants.

The board's overall budget does not differ significantly from Dr. Hickey's proposal, apart from some minor changes. They include:

* A $36,000 increase to pay for an extra English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teacher, for a total of three additional ESOL teachers for the next school year. The county expects to enroll some 50 more students with limited English proficiency next fall.

Board members debated whether they would be able to find the money for an extra teacher. "I think we need to do more than what we've done in the past," said board member Susan Cook.

* Saving $3,900 in physical education expenses by not buying additional bicycles for an elementary school safety program. Board members felt the staff could teach bike safety more creatively and efficiently with the equipment now in place.

Ms. Kendig said she would have vetoed the entire program last year if she hadn't been ill and unable to take part in the budget discussions.

"I'm sorry I missed this one last year, but I wasn't here," she said.

* Saving $51,000 by eliminating a media services resource teacher position. School officials had requested the position for someone to help oversee book selection and observe the school system's 63 media specialists.

"Looking at other needs in the instructional area, I think this could wait until another year," said board member Linda Johnston.

* Saving $50,000 by cutting the book budget for a new Ellicott City elementary school scheduled to open this fall. School officials had earmarked $350,000 for new books, but board members were concerned that they would create an inequitable distribution of books between new and older schools if that request was approved.

The board plans to submit the budget by March 15 to County Executive Charles I. Ecker. He will forward the proposal to the County Council, which has final approval.

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