School board reduces budget request, saves some improvements

$3.1 million cut

trainers, additional teachers on tap

May 20, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Howard County school board members reduced their operating budget request yesterday for next school year by $3.1 million, while retaining program improvements such as class-size reduction in some schools and providing certified health trainers for athletes at each high school.

After the board submitted a budget request of $302.8 million, County Executive James N. Robey cut it by $4.8 million. However, the Howard County Council recently restored $1.7 million and allowed the school system to move $500,000 of its operating budget request to the capital budget.

The budget received another boost after the school system was able to re-bid for employee health insurance coverage, gaining a savings of $746,000. Also, $300,000 in federal money will be used to help pay for new teachers to reduce class sizes.

"We submitted a budget that was the very best we thought we could expect," said board Chairwoman Karen B. Campbell. "We got just a little bit less than the best, but we got a huge improvement over recent years. For that, we are very appreciative."

"I think it's a good budget and a good effort on everybody's part," said Superintendent Michael E. Hickey. "It's been a good budget year."

Last month, the school system was faced with trimming the budget by sticking with the original class-size reduction plan -- cutting student-teacher ratios at nine "focus" elementary schools and eight others with relatively high numbers of low-income students.

However, with the help of federal money, identification of extra positions and money saved from the retirement and departure of some teachers, each elementary school will get some relief.

Every elementary school in the county will get at least one additional teacher for first grade. Seventeen elementary schools will receive additional teachers to cut class size in first and second grade to a pupil-teacher ratio of 19 to 1.

"If we would have had to take the full $4.8 million cut, I can guarantee you there would have only been the 17 original schools that would have gotten the [extra] support," Hickey said. "I still would have salvaged part of every one of the major initiatives. We would have had some of everything, but we would have had to make some cutbacks on it."

The board also decided to provide the $86,000 needed to have certified trainers at every county high school.

Student athletes, health professionals and members of the Interscholastic Athletic Advisory Committee lobbied for the trainers at budget hearings, saying they were vital to the health of the school system's athletes.

"This is very big," said Donald Disney, coordinator of athletics for the school system. "I think it's the most significant addition to the athletic program since I've been here. It's that big."

Disney said the trainers will be crucial because they can provide instant assistance when a student athlete is seriously injured. The trainers also can train coaches in conditioning and training techniques to prevent injuries, Disney said.

"With nearly 7,000 athletes out there, you just don't know when your time's gonna come up," Disney said, referring to student injuries. "Having somebody with that immediate care and knowledge is a tremendous relief not only for me, but it should be for all the parents."

Board Vice Chairman Stephen C. Bounds, who suggested fully funding the initiative yesterday, said students need medical assistance on the playing field after school as well as while in school.

"It is a safety issue," Bounds said. "At 2 o'clock, when the bodies start flying, there isn't any coverage. I believe that we have no less of a responsibility to provide for the safety of the students for all of those school-sponsored athletic activities than we do during the school day."

Pub Date: 5/20/99

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