Budget likely to get school board approval $452.9 million is 6.7 percent increase

February 18, 1997|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County school board members are likely to adopt Superintendent Carol S. Parham's $452.9 million proposed budget tomorrow with little tinkering, saying the 6.7 percent increase over the current spending plan is needed after two lean budget years.

"This is one of the most student-centered budgets that we have had in many a year," said board Vice President Carlesa R. Finney of Glen Burnie.

Board members said recent budgets left little money beyond what was needed for required programs such as special education and health, and adding teachers for new students.

"There isn't much to cut that I see here," said board member Paul G. Rudolph of Severna Park.

"This budget is aimed at the critical mass. I hope it survives that way," said board member Thomas E. Florestano of Crofton.

Their agreement probably was predictable, given the lack of dissension at public hearings this year. Most of the parents who showed up praised what is in the proposal, rather than complained about what is missing, as they have in previous years.

The budget would add $7.5 million for nearly 247 new jobs, $1.8 million for school computers, and $130,000 for standardized testing in grades two, four and six.

Parham's proposal includes 49 new teachers to meet an expected enrollment increase of 1,000 students, two teachers for North County sixth-graders who are still in elementary instead of middle schools, and two maintenance workers who will do only roof repairs.

Questions likely

Although some initiatives -- such as making sure that every elementary school has a reading teacher -- are championed by nearly all of the board members, others -- such as hiring more secretaries -- are likely to be questioned by some.

"We have to bolster the capabilities of our students," said Steven H. White Jr., student member of the board.

A committee consisting mostly of principals said recently that county elementary and middle schools were understaffed by 175 workers, including 118 secretarial jobs.

Board members might be asked to consider increasing spending on textbooks. A recent book audit confirmed what school administrators said last year, that they are at least $6 million behind in textbooks. Parham proposed adding $500,000 to start buying books, but board President Joseph H. Foster thinks that is not enough.

"I think we need to take a bigger bite out of that apple," he said. "I think we need to increase that substantially, probably up to around the $2 million mark."

Textbooks are a sore topic for many parents. They were furious two years ago, when money from the budget category that includes books was siphoned off for other uses.

Last year, they complained that without enough books for each student to take one home, students were reading "Huckleberry Finn" in class. PTAs have been supplementing school textbook purchases.

Parham also included nearly $158,000 for nine teacher assistants to run in-school suspension programs in half of the county's middle schools, part of an attempt to overhaul the troubled middle school program.

Parham plan questioned

The superintendent said she plans to add the remaining schools to the program in the 1998-1999 school year, but a few board members wonder whether it might be better to do all of the schools at once.

"If it is worth doing, it is worth doing at all of them. And I think it is worth doing," said Foster.

A school board committee is negotiating with the four employee unions, leaving the board to guess at a number for personnel costs tomorrow or submit a supplemental request to County Executive John G. Gary once contracts are ratified. The board's budget must go to the executive's office by the end of the month.

The board also will have to re-authorize its capital budget plan, which is likely to have two gaps in it, money for rebuilding or renovating Brooklyn Park and Southern middle schools.

The school system is developing new specifications for its middle schools that will use less space and therefore cost less. How and whether they can be applied to Brooklyn Park and Southern is not known. Without that information, the board is unlikely to decide tomorrow on what to do with those schools.

The budget, the last item on the agenda, is scheduled to be discussed starting at 10 p.m. at the Board of Education building in Annapolis.

Pub Date: 2/18/97

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