To hear Howard County school officials tell it, the education department has been all but savaged in its latest battle with the county government over school spending for the coming year. The school system has come out of this supposedly nasty skirmish with $4.3 million less than it requested.
Emphasizing the pall that has fallen over the school system, board member Sandra French gave her assessment of this year's budget process by saying, "I just feel a heavy weight of sadness."
While Ms. French is no doubt sincere, the recently concluded budget deliberations treated the school system more generously than school officials want the public to believe.
Consider the following: The schools' $217.6 million operating budget for fiscal '95 represents not a cut, but an increase of $13 million over the current year's budget.
All of the $4.3 million school officials didn't receive was for new spending initiatives; not getting that money did not represent a cut in services. In responding to the loss of the $4.3 million, school officials did reorder some priorities and in the process cut some minor services. But they totaled no more than $180,000 in maintenance costs. All of the other "cuts" in programs were for services that have not existed.
That is not to say that real growth in the school system's budget doesn't have real impact in the classroom. There are things the school system will not be able to do this year because of fiscal constraints. But $4.3 million in pain is not what has been inflicted here.
In fact, $1.6 million of the $4.3 million is actually being picked up under the education department's capital budget. The money will be used to buy new computers, which officials say are necessary to bring schools up to par technologically.
Furthermore, the school system stands to gain an additional $1.1 million next January if the county's income tax revenue projections hold true. Given the county budget director's previous years of conservatism in making these projections, the likelihood is good that the school system will get that money.
School officials were no doubt saddened in the way anyone is when they don't get all they want. Savaged, they were not.