Schools head suggests trims

Plans for reduction of classroom size are included on list

April 30, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Responding to the possibility that there will be $4.8 million less to spend next year, Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey presented the school board with a list of proposed cuts at a special work session last night.

As expected, many of the proposals applied to new initiatives such as a plan to reduce class size, alternative programs for troubled students and improvements in special education.

Even $47,000 in new shelving for the warehouse was on Hickey's list.

While Hickey did not propose eliminating any major programs, he said that with less money, they would not go as far as hoped.

He said he has faxed a list of his suggested cuts to County Executive James N. Robey, who pared $4.8 million from the board's spending request for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Hickey said that although Robey has offered the largest amount of operating funds in recent history, the school system has been sustaining itself on "maintenance" budgets for nearly a decade.

Those budgets had little room for critical program improvements, he said.

Robey rejected Hickey's request to rescind last year's local income tax cut so that more money could be added to the school budget.

The school board's budget request was $302.8 million, an 11 percent increase over this year's spending.

The county funds about 75 percent of the budget, with the remainder coming from federal and state programs.

"I appreciate very much the position that Jim Robey is in on this. I do appreciate the effort he made," Hickey said. "In my judgment, the effort fell short."

Among Hickey's proposals:

Reduce by seven the number of elementary schools that will have smaller class sizes in the primary grades. He suggested sticking with the original plan to reduce pupil-teacher ratios at nine focus elementary schools and eight others with relatively high numbers of low-income children. That would trim $286,000 from the budget.

"I have no intention of recommending -- I don't care what the circumstances are -- a reduction in the class-size initiative that we proposed to you originally," Hickey told the board.

Cut 12 of 28 positions from a plan to reduce class sizes in some middle and high schools, a savings of $436,000.

Cut $86,000 that would be used to provide certified health trainers for athletes at each high school. The school system has two trainers who rotate among the schools on a part-time basis.

Student athletes, health professionals and members of the Interscholastic Athletic Advisory Committee lobbied for the trainers earlier this year, saying they are necessary for the well-being of Howard's 6,600 student-athletes.

"From our perspective, it's a new position," Hickey said. "We're recommending that it be eliminated."

Cut $100,000 in improvements to the special education program. While no teaching positions would be eliminated, programs for autistic children would be affected.

Scale back contracted building maintenance repairs in older schools by $500,000.

"That's something you've trimmed every year, and it just means the list gets longer and longer," Hickey told the board.

He said one of his largest proposed cuts -- a $700,000 reduction in employee health insurance coverage -- was relatively painless because the school system has re-bid those services.

"Once again, we're going to be accused by people of trying to stir up folks," Hickey said. "The only place where we really have much flexibility in the budget is the new initiatives."

Karen B. Campbell, the board's chairwoman, encouraged people in the audience to lobby county council members to restore money to the budget.

Council budget hearings and work sessions will be held next month. The council hopes to approve the final budget in late May.

"You don't have to be there to lobby your County Council person," Campbell said. "They have e-mail addresses and telephone numbers that work."

Pub Date: 4/30/99

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