Council president favors $2 million increase to schools budget

May 08, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

The president of the Harford County Council wants to increase by $2 million the proposed $96.4 million school system budget.

Jeffrey D. Wilson said he wants to give the schools the money to hire more teachers, maintain a federal program for disadvantaged elementary schoolchildren, increase spending for students with disabilities and start an alternative education program for high school students.

The money would be in addition to the $8.9 million increase proposed by County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann -- but still less than the $14 million the school system requested.

"What Mrs. Rehrmann's budget does is barely maintain the status quo," said Mr. Wilson, speaking after a public hearing on the county budget at Joppatowne High School.

About 200 people attended the Thursday night meeting -- many were county or school officials.

The final public hearing will be conducted at 7 p.m. Thursday at C. Milton Wright High School in Bel Air.

Most of the speakers at the meeting asked for more funding for schools. But other concerns arose, such as transportation, jobs and housing for adults with physical or learning disabilities.

The council, which has until the end of this month to approve a county budget, can subtract money from any department or agency and give it to education. Education is the only department the council cannot cut.

Mrs. Rehrmann's $175 million proposed operating budget for fiscal 1995, which begins July 1, would give the school system $96.4 million, up from $87 million this year.

Mr. Wilson declined to say where the $2 million would come from.

But Robert S. Wagner, a District E Republican, said he will recommend that the council subtract $229,000 from Harford Community College's proposed budget and use it to fund a federal program for young, disadvantaged children often referred to as Chapter 1.

The Chapter 1 program, which provides money for needy children at the county's 13 poorest schools, will lose nearly $500,000 in federal money this year, according to Donald R. Morrison, schools spokesman.

He said the school system, which has 29 elementary schools, expects to get $134,000 in state money to cover part of the loss. The program has about $200,000 left from this year that can be used to defray part of the loss. But he said that still leaves the school system about $229,000 short.

Chapter 1 programs include Reach, designed to improve reading skills in the first and second grades; a Home Visitors Program to get parents involved in their child's education; and a literacy program for parents who cannot read.

Mrs. Rehrmann's proposed HCC budget includes $300,000 to furnish and equip a 9,000-square-foot-building that won't be built for at least another year, Mr. Wagner said.

Joanne S. Parrott, a District B Republican, said she was scrutinizing Mrs. Rehrmann's budget to find $240,000 to establish an alternative education program in Aberdeen.

Robert S. Magee, Aberdeen High School principal, told the council that keeping students in school should be a priority.

"There was a time high school dropouts could find jobs as unskilled laborers, at mines or plants, but those kind of jobs don't exist anymore," he said.

The school system has one alternative education program -- in Bel Air -- that operates three nights a week. The night school, which has about 40 students, is for students who have been expelled or given a long-term suspension, Mr. Magee said.

But he said the school system needs an alternative education program that will keep youths in school who are not disciplinary problems.

"We have students who drop out of school, not because they have done anything wrong, but because they have children of their own, or they have to work during the day because they are the sole support of their family, or have emotional problems that make a regular school day impossible," Mr. Magee said.

He said the Bel Air site is too far away for those who live along the U.S. 40 corridor. He said many of these students come from families who can't afford a car.

The school system, which has about 35,000 students, has a dropout rate of about 3.5 percent or about 1,225 students a year.

Parents, teachers and others at the meeting appealed to the council for money to repair older schools. William Loucks, a school custodian, said schools 20 years or older should receive more maintenance before little problems become big ones. Lisa McCleave said Edgewood Elementary, which is 24 years old, also needs repairs. "Not a week goes by that we don't have two or three service calls to repair the heating and cooling system," she said.

Other parents said Joppatowne Elementary has a leaking roof, warped floors and mold.

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