Officials foresee larger classes $424.5 million budget leaves little flexibility for schools' plans

June 17, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

With little wiggle room in the coming year's $424.5 million budget, Anne Arundel school officials say parents can expect larger classes and more classes in which two grades are combined.

With the next fiscal year only two weeks away, officials are looking into such things as decreasing the number of high school teachers in favor of adding elementary teachers and how quickly they could hire the 10 new classroom teachers whose jobs are in a contingency account dependent on student enrollment.

The school board is scheduled on Wednesday to adopt the budget passed by the County Council, a lean fiscal plan that is about 1.4 percent more than this year's budget.

"Realistically, it's going to be a very tough year for what goes on in our classrooms," predicted Superintendent Carol S. Parham. "The areas of concern will be with regard to staffing."

A more blunt assessment came from board member Thomas R. Twombly: "We're in trouble."

The pinch is going to get more painful every year, as more and more board requests don't get funded, he said. For example, despite a board priority to raise scores in the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, the County Council did not include $200,000 for student testing, $504,000 for training teachers, or more reading specialists.

School board President Joseph H. Foster told board members and the superintendent that staying within council-budgeted categories is a priority, if only to avoid year-end budget transfers that annoy the council.

But Rita Lowman, president of the County Council of PTAs warned that combined grade classes and overcrowding will annoy parents.

Board member Thomas Florestano hopes retirements of experienced teachers will provide money for some new teachers.

Or the board could leave other jobs vacant in favor of hiring teachers.

Little flexibility

The budget is so tight that the board has little flexibility beyond the option of trading two guidance counselor positions for three teaching jobs, said budget director Gregory V. Nourse.

But Parham said that idea was "not desirable."

The budget falls 27 teachers short of the board's request for 45 more classroom teachers. It also drops three guidance counselors, four psychologists, 14 reading specialists and four teachers for a special sixth-grade project that the board proposed. It does, however, include two elementary school guidance counselors and about $400,000 to start an alternative high school for disruptive teen-agers.

The $320,000 in a contingency fund for new teachers poses a logistical problem, Foster said.

The student population is counted on Sept. 30, and the figures won't be analyzed to show needs for a month. If the board can't request that money until November, it will be the second semester before those teachers are in place, he said.

Student projections differ

At issue has been how many new students the nation's 47th-largest school district should expect. School officials say 1,692; county officials say 1,150 or fewer.

School officials fear that progress made in reducing the number of "splits," classes that combine two grades, will be lost. In recent years, the number of classes in that category decreased by one-third to about 42.

Ironically, inaccurate enrollment projections helped. Teachers who had been hired because of expected enrollment increases were used to reduce class size and splits when the estimates were too high.

The council-passed budget will mean problems outside the classrooms, too, school officials warn.

Positions required

For the second time in as many years, the council did not include $95,000 for two administrative records positions that state schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick insisted on after a student-teacher sex scandal. Once again Parham will have to make internal cuts to come up with the money for those salaries.

School officials also suspect they are going to fall short in two areas: special education and health programs.

And they could be in a bind over maintenance and operations, where the budget for electricity is $50,000 under the estimate.

That has led Twombly to say the schools may have to consider less nighttime security lights and, in ensuing years, adding flow-restriction devices to toilets as a way to cut water and sewer bills.

Pub Date: 6/16/96

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