School board backs 6.1% spending rise $254.7 million budget includes raises, plans to hire more workers

Competitive pay is goal

County executive offers little hope for funding entire request

February 26, 1997|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,Howard County public schools Pub Date: 2/26/97SUN STAFF

The Howard County school board yesterday approved a budget plan that calls for a 6.1 percent spending increase for the 1997-1998 school year and would give raises of at least 3.5 percent to most teachers and other employees.

Much of the $254.7 million operating budget request remains unchanged from the one proposed last month by Howard schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey -- including plans to hire about 240 more teachers and other staff, employ lunch and recess aides for elementary schools, replace textbooks more frequently and improve reading instruction in the early grades.

But the board made a number of changes in Hickey's proposal -- including reducing library books for new schools, limiting new special education spending and adding money to the Black Student Achievement Program (BSAP).

The board also revived the middle school intramural activities program and restored some of the funds Hickey proposed cutting from building maintenance, saying the county's older schools are in need of repairs.

The operating budget request now goes to County Executive Charles I. Ecker and the County Council, where education desires may run into county budget pressures -- a possibility recognized by board members and school officials.

The state's "maintenance of effort" law calls for the county to increase its spending on education by about $6.4 million to cover the costs of student enrollment increases. But the board's budget request calls for the county to spend about $2 million more than that.

"I think some increase is possible," said board member Stephen Bounds. "I don't think any of us know how much."

Little optimism

This school year, the county gave the school system only enough to fulfill the state requirement. And Ecker said yesterday that he would look at the board's spending plan, but offered little hope that he would fund the entire request.

"Right now, it doesn't look very good for going beyond maintenance of effort," Ecker said.

Ecker will hold a budget hearing Tuesday to hear residents' views on county spending for next year, and he and the council will approve a county budget -- including the broad limits of education spending -- by late May.

The school board then will approve a final version of its 1997-1998 spending plan May 30, and board members acknowledged yesterday they may end up having to cut $1 million or more if Ecker and the council don't fund their entire request.

But Ecker also said yesterday he shared the concern of county educators and parents about the importance of keeping teachers' salaries competitive with nearby school systems.

The school system's tentative agreements with the employee unions -- announced by Hickey at the beginning of yesterday's meeting -- include what both sides describe as "modest" raises aimed at bringing the salaries of Howard teachers and others closer to those of surrounding counties.

"It falls short of what teachers need to re-establish our competitive position vis-a-vis other systems," said Karen Dunlop, president of the Howard County Education Association, the union representing teachers and instructional support personnel. "However, it is a very good effort at bringing us back on the right track."

Small raises

In the 1990s, school employees have received very small raises as the county budget has gotten tighter. For example, teachers last year negotiated raises that averaged about 1 percent -- and one-third of them ended up with no raise.

Under the new agreement, most of the county's 2,999 teachers and other certified instructional employees will receive a longevity increase next school year, plus raises averaging 2 percent. Teachers with more than 18 years of experience -- most of whom will not receive longevity increases -- will receive an additional pay raise.

The agreement means most teachers will receive pay raises ranging from 4 percent to 7 percent, depending on their years of experience, said Robert Lazarewicz, the school system's executive director of operations.

"I think it's a very realistic settlement," Hickey said. "I said from the beginning that it was a very high priority." The agreements still need to be ratified by union members, likely sometime next month.

Other changes

The board made other budget changes yesterday, including: Cutting $85,500 from the special education budget. Board members told school officials to find a way to cut what essentially amounts to two teachers' salaries. Board members made the largely symbolic cut to note their frustration with a part of the school budget that is increasing faster than the rest -- primarily because special education staff is growing twice as fast as staff in the general instructional budget.

Cutting $20,000 from funds to buy library books for new schools, saying new schools shouldn't be opened with newer library collections that are substantially larger than the county average. The board also directed that some money intended for new schools' libraries be spent instead to upgrade libraries at older schools.

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