Schools request increase in budget Plan before county seeks $240 million for next fiscal year

February 28, 1996|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Saying they could do little more than take care of the bare necessities, Howard County school board members yesterday approved a $240 million budget request that includes a $10 million increase to operate schools in the 1996-1997 fiscal year.

Nearly all of the increase -- which might not be approved by the county -- would go for teachers, books and supplies for the school system's projected 1,600-student enrollment increase next fall and the opening of two new high schools and one new elementary school.

As part of the budget plan, the school system has reached tentative agreements with its employee unions. While school and union officials would not provide details until the agreements are ratified, the budget approved by the board includes about $2 million for salary raises for next year -- less than a third of what the school system is spending this year on pay increases.

"The budget contains not what we really want, but what we feel is necessary," said Susan Cook, the board's chairwoman. "We take very seriously our responsibility to both the county and its fiscal restraints."

But board members still expended enough money from the operating budget to save several central office positions that Superintendent Michael E. Hickey had proposed eliminating to reduce expenses.

The board also approved a revised capital budget that eliminates a new elementary school for the northeastern area of the county that had been scheduled to open in 1999. Instead, the board agreed to increase the size of a previously planned addition to Waterloo Elementary School and to build an addition to Deep Run Elementary School.

But neither the operating nor the capital budget requests are guaranteed to receive full funding from the county, board members were quick to point out yesterday.

Both budgets will be sent to County Executive Charles I. Ecker next month, and he has warned that he is not sure how much money he will be able to provide to the schools.

The school board's operating budget request seeks a $6.6 million funding boost from the county -- the maximum that Mr. Ecker has said the county will give to the schools.

The $6.6 million figure is the minimum county increase required by the state's "maintenance of effort" law to keep up with new student enrollment.

If Mr. Ecker doesn't meet maintenance of effort, "then all bets are off," Ms. Cook said.

Changes made

Nevertheless, members spent more than four hours yesterday making relatively small changes to the budget as they sought to add or save particular areas.

The most notable changes included:

* Reinstating several of the 18 central office positions that Dr. Hickey wanted to eliminate. The positions include a central office reading resource teacher and central office math and science high school resource teachers. Dr. Hickey had proposed eliminating the reading teacher and reducing the math and science teachers from full-time to half-time. The board also allocated $6,000 for physical education staff development instead of adding a resource teacher to that subject.

* Allocating $70,000 to partially pay for uniforms for such performance groups as band, choruses and cheerleaders at the two new high schools. Board member Sandra French said the DTC board has spent $405,000 on uniforms for athletic teams and said she wanted to try to "ensure equity among programs."

* Allocating $1,500 to each middle school to restart after-school intramural activities. The board eliminated the program during budget cuts last year, and members said they regretted their decision because intramurals provide supervised activities to many middle school students who otherwise are home alone after school. But the $22,500 is barely a quarter of the money that the board spent on intramural activities in 1994-1995.

* Expanding a program known as instructional consultation teams to six more schools by allocating about $200,000 to hire three psychologists. The teams provide school-based training and support services to teachers to help them deal with problem students in their classes. Schools that have used the teams report a 25 percent decrease in the number of students referred to special education. "If we get a 25 percent reduction, that has got to translate into some substantial reduction in special education spending," said board member Stephen Bounds. The $200,000 was taken out of special education funds.

* Replacing some funding expected to be eliminated by the federal government, including some Title VI grant money that now goes to pay for child abuse training, AIDS and substance abuse prevention and the development of new classes for the technology magnet program.

Fund reductions

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