Board OKs Howard school budgets Votes end long process marked by public outcry over proposed reductions

May 30, 1998|By Erin Texeira | Erin Texeira,SUN STAFF

Ending a contentious, monthlong budget process, the Howard County school board approved funding allocations for next year yesterday.

Noting that heavy public involvement in this year's budget process had a significant and positive effect on school funding, the board approved -- without changing allocations it determined last week -- a $199.07 million operating budget and a $30.65 million capital budget.

"I want to thank the public as well as our employees for the tremendous outpouring of support they showed during the budget process," said Stephen C. Bounds, chairman of the school board."If there had not been public outcry, I have very little doubt that the majority of [proposed new] initiatives would have been eliminated."

School funding debate

The votes ended weeks of debate and negotiation between school officials and members of the County Council over school funding.

As part of the budget, the school board also approved yesterday a 2 percent salary increase for new teachers and a 2 1/2 percent pay raise for current teachers, which was negotiated with the teachers' union.

Referring to the increase for current teachers, Karen Dunlop, head of the union, said, "The raise was minimal; anything less would have caused us to fall further behind other areas.

"But the Board of Education values the educational process, and they understand that anything more than 2 1/2 percent would have been impossible to find, given this County Council." The school board initially requested a $204.5 million operating budget, but County Executive Charles I. Ecker included a $195.6 education allocation in his budget. It was that $8.9 million reduction that sparked the most vocal protests of this year's budget process.

In subsequent weeks, school officials proposed meeting Ecker's figures through such controversial options as charging students play athletics and having them walk longer distances to school buses.

Public protests cuts

Urging members of the County Council to restore funds to the budget, more than 800 parents, students and educators attended a public hearing May 7 at which 90 people testified, the last at nearly 1 a.m.

As school funding became a political issue in this election year, the council restored $3.5 million to the operating budget and $500,000 to the capital budget. Members of the school board found funds in other budget categories to avoid charging athletic fees or having students walk farther to reach their buses.

"I'm glad it's over," Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said after yesterday's meeting. "[The council's funding restorations] should have been better, but thanks to the restorations we did get, it made it possible to minimize the impact on the classroom."

Pub Date: 5/30/98

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