Schools chief seeks 8.4 percent budget increase

Smaller classes, equity issues among needs, Hickey says

January 13, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF


In an article Thursday in the Howard County edition of The Sun about the Howard County school system's operating budget, Superintendent Michael E. Hickey incorrectly stated that he was requesting money for more than five additional guidance counselors at certain elementary schools. Hickey is requesting money for one additional guidance counselor.

Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is requesting an 8.4 percent increase in his operating budget to continue initiatives that were begun this year, accommodate growth and respond directly to the community's recent appeals for more equity in school resources, facilities, technology and staffing.

Hickey's proposed $325.1 million budget for the 2000-2001 school year, which was released Tuesday, is $25.4 million more than last year's nearly $300 million budget. That budget was a $20 million increase from the previous year.

Such a jump is necessary, Hickey said, to continue existing projects and also be more diligent in the area of equity among schools.

"The term equity has had a lot of play recently in Howard County," Hickey said in an introduction to the budget proposal, which will be presented tonight to the school board.

"Many of the concerns raised are addressed in our budget by ongoing programs and new initiatives, but our budget clearly contains some increases -- totaling $2.1 million -- that address equity and related issues," he said.

The $2.1 million will pay for increases, additions and improvements in such areas as:

School maintenance, most of which Hickey said is "dedicated to improving older schools."

More than five additional guidance counselors at elementary schools with high enrollments or high demands for counseling.

Teacher recruitment and retention, including adding two human resources positions for recruiting.

In-school printing and duplicating services.

Equity seen as a problem

Issues of school equity came to the forefront in September when parents in the Clemens Crossing community in Columbia transferred their children to the new Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton instead of having them attend Wilde Lake Middle, which they said was inferior.

The transfers sparked debate in the community and spotlighted a trend toward declining white enrollment and increased concentrations of minority and lower-income students in several schools in older Columbia neighborhoods.

The County Council formed ad-hoc committees to study the issues, and a broader Leadership Committee on School Equity is working on recommendations to the school board for eliminating inequities and perceptions of inequities.

Improvements to the county's focus schools, which already receive extra resources because of low state test scores, are not included in the $2.1 million Hickey is requesting for equity, but money has been budgeted to meet those schools' needs, Hickey said.

The $25.4 million increase does not include salary increases for employees. Those are being negotiated through collective bargaining that Hickey said should end by spring. Many of the 18 candidates for two seats on the school board have made campaign promises of across-the-board raises for teachers.

School district budget officer David White said a 1 percent raise for all employees would cost an additional $2.1 million.

Hickey's proposed budget does include $6.8 million to address academic achievement gaps among students, improve the special education program and continue the county's effort to reduce class size, lowering the student-to-teacher ratio to 19 to 1 in first and second grades.

This year, class sizes in 17 of 37 elementary schools were reduced. This budget provides for reduction of class sizes in the remaining 20. The reduction calls for 22 new teachers. Budget increases would pay for 10 of those teachers. A grant is expected to pay for the other 12.

180 new teachers

In total, the proposal calls for 180 new teachers. Most of those teachers -- 111 -- would be in classrooms for the estimated 1,335 new students expected next year in the 43,000-student school system. The other teachers would be hired for focus schools, advanced placement and resource positions, to break up large classes, supplement special education programs and expand in-school alternative programs.

Hickey is requesting an additional $16.4 million to cover the costs of the 1,300-student increase, furnish and stock schools that are under construction and keep pace with rising transportation costs.

Other requests include a $2.4 million increase in the district's transportation budget because of enrollment growth, rising gas costs and the demands of high-cost special education transportation services.

"We also anticipate about an 11 percent increase in our health insurance costs," Hickey said.

The proposal also includes requests for two nursing positions, 10 custodians and an undisclosed amount of additional money to pay a new superintendent.

Hickey said he hoped every addition and program request would be fully funded by the County Council, whose share of the budget would be about $241 million.

Every line item, Hickey said, is important. "I didn't just create a wish list," Hickey said. "Even though it's a big amount of money, we try to cut it close."

Hickey did not request a full-time guidance counselor at all elementary schools, though he would like to see one in each. And some of the costs of the new Alternative Learning Center, set to open in 2001, are being deferred to 2002's budget.

Board Chairwoman Sandra H. French said she was still reading through the 1 1/2-inch-thick proposal and couldn't comment. She did say, however, that Hickey's proposals usually are sound, with little room for waste or wiggle.

"We have a long month ahead of us where we really scrutinize the budget," French said. "And we usually come out of it feeling very comfortable with Dr. Hickey's recommendations."

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