Marchione eyes budget increase of $48.4 million Baltimore County school chief submits '96-'97 spending plan

Puts priorities in 2 tiers

He requests raises, teaching positions, competitive pay scale

January 24, 1996|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,SUN STAFF Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article

Struggling to meet the needs of a larger and more demanding student body, Baltimore County interim Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione last night proposed a 1996-1997 school budget that would reduce class size, boost teach salaries and cut administrative positions.

He asked the school board for a $623 million operating budget, an increase of $48.4 milllion. The 8.4 percent increase is the largest of any of the suburban Baltimore school systems; the city has not released its budget request.

In a precedent-setting move, however, Dr. Marchione divided the increase into two tiers: must-haves and like-to-haves, so county officials could see more clearly what their allocations will buy for the 105,000 students expected next year.

He asked for enough new teaching positions to reduce class size to its 1992 levels, and to reinstitute staffing guidelines that will provide for specific positions, such as reading teacher and librarian, that have disappeared from some schools.

The proposed operating budget seeks 235 more teaching positions, provides for $8.1 million in raises for all employees, and nearly $6 million more to make the salary scale for teachers and administrators more competitive, Dr. Marchione said.

On the other hand, it would cut $1 million from the county's magnet school program and eliminate 27 administrative positions at a saving of another $3 million. Although Dr. Marchione would not rule out layoffs, he said he hoped to eliminate the jobs through a limited retirement incentive program that the board approved last night. "We really need $48 million [more], but if we can't get $48 million we'll know what comes first," Dr. Marchione said of his two-tier proposal.

"I believe we must identify our needs and at the same time be prepared to state our priorities when and if the money is not available," he said in his prepared statement to the board. "To my knowledge, this has never been done by any past superintendent."

County officials called the request prudent and responsible -- even though Dr. Marchione's proposed increase is $3 million more than what they deemed an "excessive" increase sought by former Superintendent Stuart Berger last year. Budget disputes lasted for months last year, leading to charges that the school system must be made more accountable.

Dr. Marchione said that County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III had not seen the details of this year's request, but that the superintendent and his staff had tried to acquiesce to the requests of county officials.

Two tiers

The first tier of requests totals $598 million and shows an increase of $23.5 million over the current year. It includes $8.3 million for the new positions needed to handle the nearly 3,000 additional students expected in September, $15 million for individual school expenses such as textbooks, and $490 million for salaries and benefits for current employees -- the bulk of the budget.

Not only does the number of students rise each year, but more students "present an increasing number of challenges to our education system. The number of students living in economically difficult circumstances has increased to 23.8 percent of our students," Dr. Marchione said.

The second-tier "priority level," which amounts to nearly $25 million, includes $6 million for installing classroom technology and $12 million for increases in salaries and benefits. This group of requests also lists $5 million to begin a teacher mentoring program in schools that have large numbers of inexperienced instructors.

Dr. Marchione said the county executive seeks state funds for the mentoring program, which could extend to 52 schools. The school system could, however, phase in that program, depending on the amount of state aid available.

First to be served are 11 elementaries: Bear Creek, Featherbed, Halstead, Riverview, Sandalwood, Sandy Plains, Scotts Branch, Seneca, Victory Villa, Winfield and Woodmoor.

"We're pleased that they're making the tough choices," said Michael H. Davis, the county executive's spokesman. "They wisely submitted a budget that came within the mark."

That means $9 million more in county money, keeping with the state law that requires education funding not to fall below the previous year's per-pupil levels.

Education and police are the only departments slated to get more in the budget Mr. Ruppersberger is due to present in mid-April, Mr. Davis said.

Class size

Dr. Marchione said that 121 of the 235 new teaching positions requested would help to reduce class size from an average of 24.6 to 23.9 students, as it was in 1992. These additional teachers also will help the schools achieve a new goal: "To have all students completing grade two be able to read, write and do mathematical computations on grade level," he said.

"Success in school depends on these basic skills, especially reading. Our reading scores have started to decline, and we're very concerned about that," he added. Elementary school supervisors already are developing plans to attack these deficiencies.

The budget proposal also includes:

* $6.6 million in supplemental funds for schools with large numbers of needy students.

* $64 million to replace school buses and to continue updating the computer system in administrative offices.

* $100,000 for three "family liaisons" to increase parent involvement at Randallstown, Woodlawn and Milford Mill high schools.

* And $500,000 for overtime costs caused by inclement weather and other emergencies.

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