Parents and teachers urged the Howard County school board last night to provide money for salary increases for educators and for most of the classroom initiatives in Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposed $251.9 million operating budget.
"This is the year that funding for a fair pay increase must be the No. 1 priority for the Board of Education," social studies teacher Joe Staub told the board during its annual operating budget hearing.
Dozens of parents, residents and educators also presented their own budget wish lists to the board, making requests that ranged from maintaining special education funding to adding technicians to repair computers more quickly.
Others called for financing such basics as replacing outdated textbooks and keeping the student-teacher ratio at current levels.
Hickey's plan for the 1997-1998 school year calls for spending 4.9 percent more than in the current budget. It includes hiring 238 new teachers and staff members, adding money for new textbooks and library books, hiring lunch and recess aides for elementary schools, and improving reading instruction in the early grades.
The plan does not include money for salary increases for school employees because the school system and employee unions are still negotiating labor agreements.
The budget proposal accounts for the maximum increase in county funds that County Executive Charles I. Ecker has promised. Hickey said he hopes Ecker will give the school system extra money to pay for a salary increase, but the executive has said he wasn't sure the county could afford it.
More than 100 teachers -- most wearing red, white and blue stickers in a show of solidarity -- attended last night's hearing to support the educators and parents who supported salary increases.
Teachers have received small salary increases over the past six years, and school officials say Howard's salaries are falling behind those of some other systems in the area. Last year, the more than 3,000 school employees -- teachers, aides, custodians and other members of the support staff -- averaged barely a 1 percent raise, and more than a quarter ended up with no raise at all.
Some who spoke at the hearing said recent budgets have made more of an effort to preserve funding for textbooks, materials and programs than to help teachers.
"It is education that is valued, not the educator," said Kathy Manly, media specialist at Ellicott Mills Middle School.
The Howard County PTA Council recommended that the board forgo expansion of the new technology magnet program and use that money for pay raises for teachers.
"Given the choice between [salary increases and expanding the magnet program], we are not prepared to support an expansion in the technology magnet program until there is evidence that it is successful," said Melodi Smith, first vice president of the PTA council.
The board will hold three public work sessions on the budget over the next two weeks and will approve an operating budget request to send to Ecker Feb. 25.
Ecker and the County Council will approve the final county budget -- including the broad limits for education spending -- by late May. The school board then will adopt the final version of the 1997-1998 operating budget May 30, within the limits set by the county budget.
Pub Date: 2/07/97