8% budget increase proposed for schools

January 25, 1995|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore County schools need nearly $600 million -- $45 million more than this year -- to maintain the status quo in 1995-1996, Superintendent Stuart Berger told the school board last night.

His $599.2 million budget proposal represents an 8.13 percent increase over current spending and asks for $9 million more in state funds and $36 million more from the county.

Aside from proposing additional teachers to meet enrollment increases, the budget asks for new money to buy additional computers, hire assistant principals and replace old school buses.

"It actually allows for few enhancements," Dr. Berger said in a prepared statement. "While money will not ensure progress, the lack of it will surely impede it."

The proposal did not include raises for teachers or other school personnel beyond the already-negotiated increases that staff members receive for accumulated years of service. This could change as the school board reaches agreements with its administrative, teaching and clerical unions, Dr. Berger said at a briefing before the meeting, but he will not ask for more money to fund them. The money for any raises would come from other areas of the existing budget, he said.

With just under 100,000 students now and about 4,000 more expected next year, the school system will need 227 more teachers, 16 more teaching assistants and 17 more clerical workers, at an additional cost of $11.9 million for salary and benefits, to maintain the status quo, Dr. Berger said. Even if all of these positions are funded by the county, there will be "no improvement in class size," he said.

The current ratio is 17.6 students to each member of the teaching staff, but actual class sizes are considerably higher because not all staff members are classroom teachers. Their numbers include guidance counselors, librarians, reading specialists and music, art and physical education teachers.

Dr. Berger acknowledged that class size, which has been growing steadily and now tops 30 in some schools, is a major concern to parents and county government officials. He proposes approaching the problem in part with additional computer resources in the classroom.

"The answer to class size is technology," he said, explaining that the schools cannot continue to increase their expensive "human resources" and that computer programs can address different student needs even in large classes.

Therefore, the budget proposal asks for nearly $2.8 million to equip 20 elementary schools with hardware and software similar to that in the new Jacksonville Elementary School, which opened in September.

The budget asks for seven new positions in the administrative offices: a coordinator of reading instruction; three technicians to upgrade the computer system that handles personnel, payroll and student data; and three additional auditors. "In response to the county executive's increased emphasis on fiscal accountability, two of these three positions will audit school accounts, while the third will be a performance auditor," Dr. Berger said in his statement.

The school budget accounts for about 45 percent of the county's revenue. Dr. Berger's proposal would increase the schools' share to 47 percent.

The increase in the administrators' budget request also includes 12 new assistant principals at all levels. "With the student population increase and the opening of new schools, more XTC building administrators are essential," Dr. Berger said.

Calling this an "inappropriate time" to ask for additional county funds, Dr. Berger said he still thought this budget has "an excellent chance" of meeting approval from County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III and the County Council.

"I'm sure the executive and the council want good education," he said, but he noted that he has not discussed the budget request with Mr. Ruppersberger because "that would be inappropriate."

The board will adopt a final budget at its regular meeting Feb. 28. Before then, there will be a series of budget orientation meetings and a countywide public hearing Feb. 7. The board sends its budget to the county executive, who must act on it by April 15 and forward it to the council for final approval by June 1.

Also included in Dr. Berger's proposal are:

* $6.6 million for "innovative programs" in about a dozen schools, some of which are magnet programs already approved by the board and some of which are in neighborhood schools. Included in this is money with which to open two new alternative middle schools, one in the northeast and one in the southwest. Over the last two years, the school system has opened five alternative middle and high schools for disruptive and at-risk students who cannot fit into regular classrooms.

* $300,000 for 20 more half-day sessions of prekindergarten.

* $5.2 million to continue the "equity grants" started last year to help disadvantaged schools improve their scores on the state performance tests.

* More than $2 million with which to replace school buses and add contracts with private bus companies.

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