Howard council hopes to alter budget to add school funding

Smaller classes among members' top priorities

May 09, 1999|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

With detailed budget work sessions scheduled to begin tomorrow, Howard County Council members say they want to add from $600,000 to $2 million to the education budget -- mainly to preserve plans to reduce class sizes for young readers.

After last week's public budget hearing that saw dozens of speakers plead for more education spending, council members appear ready to respond if they can find enough cuts elsewhere in the $683 million spending plan to make up the difference.

"When you're No. 1, it takes a lot to stay on top. You have to enhance what you have," said Chairman C. Vernon Gray, a 16-year councilman, who assured Thursday night's crowd that "we will be looking for money to add back to the budget."

His goal, he said, is to find $2 million more for schools above the $20.1 million in new money County Executive James N. Robey provided in his budget request.

Robey said, however, taking that much money from other areas of the budget will "cripple other agencies of the county government. It's easy to say, `Fully fund the school budget,' " he said. "Where are the people who say, `Fully fund the police'?"

"People just want the best education they can afford," Gray said, noting that Howard County has the highest median household income in the state and a highly educated populace.

The council's task will be easier because of savings from rebidding health insurance, and additional federal and state money that, together, will provide another $1.2 million of the $4.8 million Robey's plan didn't fund.

School officials say they need everything they requested. "You juggle all the time. We put off, put off, put off," spokeswoman Patti Caplan said about less compelling items.

Pub Date: 5/09/99

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