School board asks superintendent to sort budget items into series of priorities

January 29, 1995|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,Sun Staff Writer

The Harford County school board, unable to pare the school system's 1995-1996 operating budget at a Monday work session, has asked Superintendent Ray R. Keech to shuffle budget items into a series of priorities.

"In years past, the board has asked [the superintendent] for priorities," said schools spokesman Donald R. Morrison. "The difference is that it is done after the county executive has said how much money is available. . . . We're doing it in reverse."

For instance, Dr. Keech will determine items that he feels are essential to the school system, such as teachers and buses for new students, Mr. Morrison explained, then will formulate other priorities, or band proposals, in order of importance.

The band proposals, Mr. Morrison said, would contain budget items that would be useful to the school system but aren't mandatory.

"We know money will be very tight," Mr. Morrison said. By putting priorities in the budget this way, "We're going to compromise. We will tell what we need to be a good system, but we will give options."

The $202.2 million budget proposal represents an increase of 13.9 percent, or $24.7 million, over this year's $177.5 million budget. It does not include teacher contract raises, which still are being negotiated, but does include one step raise for employees who qualify.

School board members had a difficult time deciding what positions and programs should be cut or modified in the budget proposal at Monday's work session.

"We should fight for what we have now," said board member Richard W. Daub Jr. "It is important that the board make a statement that this is where we want our children to be at this time."

"I need time to justify the increases," said Geoffrey R. Close, the board's newest member. "I don't see how we are going to have money to do all this. . . . A lot is going to have to be cut out of here."

The board held the meeting so it could amend the proposed line-item budget before voting on it Feb. 13 and sending it to County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann.

Class size was the buzzword from several parents who spoke to the board. "Class size and teachers are very important at this time and will always be important," said Terry Troy, president of Bel Air Middle School's PTA.

"Keep the ratio of teachers and students at the smallest level," said Pat Benedict, president of the Church Creek Elementary School PTA.

The budget proposal includes money for 96 additional classroom teachers for the projected enrollment of 37,239 students next fall -- 1,276 students more than this year. But those positions would only slightly improve teacher-student ratios in elementary and middle schools, school officials say.

The parents also pressed the board to retain other items in the budget, including money for Chapter I programs if funds for them are cut by the federal government as well as funds for guidance counselors and guidance paraprofessionals, schoolwide enrichment teachers, a parent involvement coordinator, media centers and computer software.

"We urge you to keep our materials current and supplies to students flowing," Mrs. Benedict said. "Please keep all the things in the budget that put their hands on children or that children put their hands on."

School board President Ronald R. Eaton reminded his fellow board members, "If we don't take a stand on what's important, no one else will. It is one of the most painful administrative times for us. I'm not saying $21 million is right or that $4 million is right.

"We have to come to a middle ground on this."

"I'm not afraid of a budget that's significantly increased, but . . . I'd like to go with something that has a chance," board member George Lisby said. "I don't think they're [the county executive and council] going to march with us on this budget."

The county's share of the proposed school budget would be about $118 million -- $21 million more than the $97 million appropriated for this year.

"I understand it's not likely we'll get this funding," Dr. Keech told the board.

School officials also are anticipating $80 million in state money and $3.4 million from the federal government. The rest of the budget revenue comes from miscellaneous fees, such as gate receipts at interscholastic events.

At the end of the session, the board asked Dr. Keech to consider scheduling another work session to discuss the list of band proposals.

"All of these needs are needed," Dr. Keech said. "This isn't a farce."

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