School budget approved

June 02, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Sun Staff Writer

The Howard County school board yesterday approved a $217.6 million operating budget, 2 percent short of what it had requested to run the school system in the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The budget is $4.3 million less than the one the board sent to the county executive and County Council in March, and an amount that reflects the cut of $1.6 million that had been earmarked to buy equipment and computers for older schools.

The cost of buying that equipment has been shifted to the school's capital budget under a compromise worked out last month between the County Council and the county executive.

Board member Sandra French said yesterday that she saw the budget process as a battle to finance staff raises or equipment for older schools.

She said the board's efforts to do both were stymied by fiscal constraints. "I just feel a heavy weight of sadness," Ms. French said.

Another board member, Deborah Kendig, saw the budget more as having to choose between maintaining older schools and equipping them with new computers. "I think that [part] was lost in the public discussion," she said.

Despite the $4.3 million budget reduction, she said she was "not as disappointed as in other years. I still think it's a good budget. We've had to make choices that I'm not sure are best in the long run."

Among the biggest losers was the maintenance category, where the school board trimmed $964,000 from the $8 million it had requested. The bulk of the money that was cut had been earmarked to repair playground surfaces, intercom systems and fences, and to replace such items as the carpeting, windows and boilers in older schools.

"It's going to have a major impact on operations," Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin said. "A lot of promises [to fix schools] are being deferred."

Ms. French took note of the cut of three maintenance worker positions, including an electrician and a plumber. Those three positions would have cost $74,000.

"These [positions] were needed and were a part of an extended plan to get our schools working properly," she said.

Among other cuts:

* In the administrative category, the school board cut $149,000, including $48,000 for a school construction specialist position that would have helped oversee building and renovation projects. Another $36,000 came from eliminating an accountant position at central office.

* In the instructional category, the board cut more than $2 million, half of which represents a portion of the $1.6 million that had been slated for equipment and computers at older schools. The board also eliminated $500,000 from textbook and supply purchases, and $90,000 from school administration and staff development workshops.

Close to $200,000 came from the board's decision to sacrifice 6.5 teacher "pool positions," used by school officials to staff schools with unexpected enrollment increases or other needs.

"The reduction of pool positions is still not as devastating," said Ms. Kendig, noting the difference could be made up in other categories.

There were a handful of other smaller cuts in the instructional category, including $12,000 for laptop computers for school psychologists; $3,000 for equipment for the Gateway School, which enrolls troubled youngsters; and $2,000 for a language arts enrichment program.

County Executive Charles I. Ecker has said he will restore $1.1 million to the school system's budget in January if local income tax revenues exceed this year's revenues by 10 percent and if state money is available to offset the transfer.

Also yesterday, the board approved a $42 million capital budget for next fiscal year. The budget includes money to begin or complete seven school construction projects and for other items, such as relocatable classrooms, partitions and roofing projects.

The board also ratified one-year contracts with teachers, support personnel and custodial and maintenance workers. Members in each employee union will get a 3 percent raise, plus a merit pay increase, starting July 1.

Teachers voted 1,159 to 103 in favor of the contract in March, when support personnel also voted 271 to 9 in favor of their contract.

Custodial and maintenance workers voted 69 to 1 in favor of their contract.

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