Harford executive seeks technology plan for schools $4 per pupil spent on computers, software

March 24, 1996|By Sherrie Ruhl | Sherrie Ruhl,SUN STAFF

Harford County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, sharply critical of the local school system's lack of spending on computers, says the school board's first priority should be a long-term technology plan.

Harford schools spent about $4 per pupil on computers and software in the past school year, according to an outside audit of the system's spending ordered by Mrs. Rehrmann and the County Council at a cost of $100,000.

"If there is any one thing glaring in this report, it is that the school system has failed to put technology into the schools," Mrs. Rehrmann said of the auditors' findings made public Thursday night.

"We have been waiting and waiting for years," Mrs. Rehrmann said, "and it's time the school board directed the staff to come up with a comprehensive plan."

The soon-to-retire school superintendent, Ray R. Keech, said the system would have spent considerably more on computers in the 1994-1995 school year that was audited if the county government had not "asked for $3 million back before Christmas" cover state cuts.

"We didn't buy anything we could do without that year in order to avoid teacher layoffs or a reduction in programs," said Dr. Keech, adding that a preliminary technology plan will be released next month.

Dr. Keech said spending on computers increased by $650,000 this year, and that the board in its budget request to Mrs. Rehrmann had asked the county for an additional $650,000 in the 1996-1997 school year. The audit by the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand will be used to make school spending recommendations by an "education funding, efficiency and accountability" committee appointed about a year ago by the county executive.

Mrs. Rehrmann, a Democrat who presents her budget package including school spending to the all-Republican County Council on April 1, said the audit also gives the county a way to track school spending.

That's been difficult in the past because, under state law, the school board can spend money as it wishes within 13 broad categories, she said.

"This is critically important to the taxpayer because we are spending a substantial amount of money on the school system," she said. About 55 percent of the county's budget goes to education.

Dr. Keech said the school system, which pays $40,000 for its own audit, follows the county's spending recommendations and deviates only when necessary to "maximize learning." The council, which is expected to approve a budget May 28, can increase but not cut education spending by moving money from the budgets of other departments.

Council members, including Susan B. Heselton, said the audit was "a real eye-opener."

She said she was surprised to learn the school system spends an average of $21,000 per student on the 150 students enrolled in full-time special education programs.

"This spending is federally mandated, but paid for mostly by county dollars, and there is not a lot we can do about it," said Mrs. Heselton who represents the Joppa-Edgewood area.

The audit broke down spending in categories, including classroom instruction which incorporates teacher salaries, textbooks and technology. Among its findings:

The system spent an average $3,572 in classroom instruction for each of some 16,600 pupils enrolled in the 31 elementary schools. But the amount varied widely among the various schools from $2,649 at Church Creek Elementary in Belcamp to $5,225 at Havre de Grace Elementary.

Havre de Grace's costs are higher, in part, because 118 of its 419 students receive help for learning disabilities and, with some overlapping, 144 receive extra services because they come from low-income homes, said Jay F. May, a manager for Coopers & Lybrand.

By comparison, only 78 of Church Creek's 548 students receive part-time special education services for disabilities and none receives extra help on the basis of family income.

The system spent an average of $3,171 on classroom instruction for each of the approximately 8,400 students in its eight middle schools. Costs were fairly close, ranging from $2,914 per student at Aberdeen Middle to $3,507 at Havre de Grace Middle.

The system spent an average of $3,684 on classroom instruction for each of the approximately 9,000 students enrolled in its nine high schools. Costs ranged from $3,127 per student at Fallston High to $4,395 at Harford Technical High, which has more specialized equipment for vocational training.

Pub Date: 3/24/96

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