Balto. Co. school budget would add 52 teachers Proposed $641 million spending plan calls for smaller class sizes

January 28, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County's school superintendent last night proposed a $641 million spending plan for 1998-1999 that would add 52 teachers for enrollment growth, expand prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten programs and slightly reduce high school class sizes.

The operating budget proposal -- which calls for a modest 2.25 percent spending increase overall -- also would boost supervision to the county's gifted and talented program and would cover the 3 percent employee raises negotiated last winter in union contracts.

"As we establish budget priorities, all of us must continue to ask, 'What do we believe?' " Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione told the school board. "I think this budget makes it abundantly clear what we believe.

"We believe in smaller class size. We believe in broadening our early childhood education and providing resources to improve our gifted and talented program. We believe that Baltimore County school employees deserve a competitive wage. But most importantly, we believe that all of our decisions must lead to improved achievement for all students."

To sharpen the focus on education from prekindergarten through 12th grade, Marchione proposed turning over the district's extensive adult education program to county community colleges. He said the move is likely to bring more state funding to the colleges but also increase class fees.

The budget increase requested by Marchione is less than the TTC percentage increases requested in other Baltimore-area suburbs. The next-smallest increase, by Carroll County's superintendent, was 6.7 percent, and the largest requested increase in the area was 12 percent by Anne Arundel's superintendent.

As in past years, Marchione divided the requested increase into two parts.

The first part -- about $9.3 million -- includes the increased county funding required by state law to pay for enrollment growth, as well as anticipated new federal and state money. All of that money will be needed to pay for employee pay raises of 2.5 percent, said chief financial officer John M. Markowski.

The so-called supplemental budget request of $4.8 million would pay for the additional 0.5 percent negotiated salary increases. It also would be used to improve computer wiring at 10 schools and to upgrade technology in the district's financial services operations.

With so much of the budget increase tied to salaries, much of the money for Marchione's initiatives will be found by streamlining the administration, Markowski said.

As a result, only some of the 138.5 new positions proposed in the operating budget will be new hires.

But school officials said it is too early to estimate how many of the positions can be filled by people whose jobs will be eliminated elsewhere in the system. Marchione does not expect layoffs.

New or expanded initiatives proposed by Marchione include: Adding 52 teaching positions to accommodate an anticipated enrollment jump of 1,984 students, up to 107,504 students. The district also will open Westchester Elementary School in the fall, requiring the hiring of administrators, secretaries and others.

Cutting high school class size from 19.1 students per teacher to 19, with the goal of eventually moving to 18.7. The reduction requires eight more teaching positions. Last year, elementary and middle school ratios were cut to 23.9 and 18.7, respectively.

Expanding early childhood programs with at least 10 new prekindergarten and full-day kindergarten teachers. Marchione said that the programs would be expanded at some schools and added to others, and he suggested adding portable classrooms to schools that lack space.

Starting a pilot program with county police to put "school resource officers" in two high schools. Officers would be part of the school staff and would teach classes on subjects such as safety and drug awareness. Similar programs are in place in Howard and Prince George's counties.

Adding three resource teachers to the gifted program. With the one coordinator and two specialists in place, each of the district's geographic areas would have one central office administrator, Marchione said.

Adding 24 positions in maintenance, construction and engineering, fiscal services and the office of law. All of the positions have been filled and are being funded with past savings, but they will be made a permanent part of the budget, Markowski said.

Marchione's budget proposal must by approved by the school board, county executive and County Council.

School officials are scheduled to present the budget to principals and PTAs at 7 p.m. today at Cockeysville Middle School.

Pub Date: 1/28/98

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