Special education to get more money

May 29, 1994|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,Sun Staff Writer

Once Harford's budget was ratified by the County Council in the early hours of Wednesday morning, Harford County schools had $340,000 more for special education.

The council, which gave the school system $1 million more than the County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann had budgeted, unanimously approved the executive's proposed $237.3 million budget for fiscal 1995.

The budget includes a $175 million operating budget -- almost 10 percent higher than fiscal 1994's $160 million -- and $62 million for the highway, water and sewer, and solid-waste budgets.

The tax rate remains unchanged at $2.73 per $100 of assessed value in most of the county. In the three municipalities, Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace, it will stay at $2.34.

The council also voted unanimously to give the county's libraries $10,000 to use as they choose. That was in addition to the $200,000 for new books and $240,000 to hire new workers allocated by Mrs. Rehrmann.

Also, the Sheriff's Department will get 16 new cars instead of 11 because 15 new employees won't be hired until later in the fiscal year, permitting the money budgeted for their salaries to be spent on vehicles.

Mrs. Rehrmann increased the school system's budget by about $9 million, to $96 million from the $87 million it received in fiscal 1994.

The school system had asked for a $14 million increase.

The system's special education program would have fallen behind if the additional $340,000 had not been allocated, said John M. Mead, director of pupil services for county schools.

The money will be used to hire five teachers and 10 instructional assistants to work with students with disabilities, he said.

About $30,000 will be used to train teachers how to work with students with disabilities, he said.

Students with disabilities include those with physical handicaps, vision or hearing impairments, learning disabilities or mental retardation.

About 4,500 of the school system's 35,000 students need some type of assistance, Mr. Mead said. A student might need help in one subject or require almost constant one-on-one assistance.

In late 1992, the school board passed a five-year plan to integrate most students with disabilities into regular classrooms.

To do that, the school system needed to add elevators and ramps to some schools, train teachers who were already in the classroom and invest in technology such as computers to make inclusion work.

The system also had to hire teachers and instructional assistants who were trained to work with these students. Mr. Mead said most of the special education budget goes for salaries and benefits.

The integration plan is also necessary to bring Harford County into compliance with state and federal laws requiring that children with disabilities be educated in the least-restrictive environment -- typically a neighborhood school.

Almost always that is a school in the student's neighborhood, the "home" school he would attend if he had no disabilities.

The school system will use the remaining $660,000 or so to hire additional teachers and to open a night school for potential high school dropouts in Aberdeen.

The money will also be used to sustain Chapter One, a federal program for disadvantaged elementary-age children. The program teaches children reading and basic math.

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