School officials optimistic now that budgets are OK'd

They are hopeful largesse will continue to boost programs

June 03, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

By all accounts, 2000 will be a good budget year for Howard County's school system. With the approval of next year's operating and capital budgets now behind them, school officials are cautiously optimistic that the largesse will continue -- especially to help keep new programs afloat.

"We are hopeful," said school board Chairwoman Karen B. Campbell. "One can't expect that you're going to have a whole era. As far as the operating budget, so far, so good. All the projections are looking good for next year."

After years of what have been described as "maintenance" budgets, Howard schools will get $299.7 million in operating funds next year, just below the $302.8 million amount the school board originally requested. Next year's capital budget was approved at $36.2 million.

Aided in part by the Howard County Council's restoration of $1.7 million after a cut by County Executive James N. Robey, the final operating budget will allow the school system to pursue initiatives such as special education improvements and elementary school class-size reductions.

Capital funds will pay for construction projects such as the renovations and additions at Talbott Springs Elementary School, Harper's Choice and Glenwood Middle schools, Mount Hebron High School, Howard High School and

"I think that we were able to accomplish the objectives that we set out to accomplish," said board member Jane B. Schuchardt. "I think that is important, because these things have been neglected for so many years."

Paramount is the class-size reduction plan. Thanks to federal funds and money saved from extra positions, each county elementary school will get at least one more teacher for first grade. Seventeen elementary schools will receive additional teachers to cut class size in first and second grades to a child-teacher ratio of 19 to 1.

"This is absolutely huge, a major, major accomplishment," said board member Sandra H. French of the impending class-size cuts. "It was really nice to have the support from the council and Mr. Robey. We are extremely pleased."

French said that the school system has a tradition of trying to make improvements within the budget it has, although "there comes a point when you have to move forward and you have to be willing to commit a certain number of dollars.

"I will be very surprised if with a new superintendent we do not continue this legacy of moving forward with other education initiatives which are critical," she said, referring to next year's replacement of the retiring superintendent, Michael E. Hickey.

"Howard County teachers have learned over the years to work with very little," Schuchardt said. "They will carry on and make it work if at all possible, no matter what."

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