County residents press council for full funding of education requests

Executive trimmed $4.8 million in budget

May 07, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council got an earful last night from people who want the council to fully fund Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's school budget requests for the next fiscal year.

School supporters filled the meeting room at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City, asking the council to restore part, if not all of the $4.8 million that County Executive James N. Robey cut last month from Hickey's budget request.

Many thanked Robey for providing $298 million in the budget, which was a $20 million increase that is the highest ever for Howard schools. At the same time, they also said the remaining money is necessary.

Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, said a full restoration of Hickey's initial request is unrealistic.

"The 10 percent increase is the largest single increase in all of the Maryland counties," Wacks said. "[Robey] felt he also had priorities in police salaries and infrastructure maintenance he felt he gave education everything they asked for."

Failure to fully fund Hickey's request would delay initiatives ranging from alternative programs for troubled students and improvements in special education to adding trainers for athletic programs, according to cuts that he proposed last week.

He said the most important improvement jeopardized would be a proposal to reduce class sizes.

With proper funding, Hickey would have kept classes in grades one through three at all county elementary schools at 20 students or fewer.

Without full funding, he said, only 17 of Howard's 37 elementary schools -- including eight with high numbers of low-income children -- would benefit from class-size reduction.

Last night, Hickey and others praised the role that reduced class size plays in raising test scores, promoting interaction among students and closer relationships with teachers.

"Our primary thing is to tell you what the best thing is for the education of our kids," the superintendent said, "and that's the reduction of class sizes."

Several people used last night's forum to remind the council members of their campaign pledges to make education a priority.

"It's always best to remind people of some promises that were made during their campaigns," said Thomas Bianco, a member of the Parent-Teacher Student Association at Glenelg High School. "This time, it was presented tactfully, and I think they will take that to heart."

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