Board votes budget boost

$16.6 million more sought for teacher pay

February 23, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

Howard County teachers can expect a jump in salaries next year, if the Board of Education's revised 2001 operating budget is approved by the County Council this spring.

Using a tentative agreement with teachers union representatives as a springboard, school board members voted yesterday to add more than $16 million in salary increases for teachers and other staff members to Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposed operating budget.

Those increases -- plus funding for reducing class sizes, replacing playground equipment and athletic uniforms, and other changes -- bring the new total for next year's proposed budget to $340.6 million.

Hickey had proposed an 8 percent increase in the operating budget -- from $300 million this year to $325 million -- to continue initiatives begun this year. He also wanted to accommodate growth and respond to the community's recent appeals for more equity in school resources, facilities, technology and staffing.

Board members agreed with Hickey in many areas, leaving most of his original proposal intact -- minus about $3.3 million.

The board rejected Hickey's request for $250,000 to extend the school day and year for staff members and some children at Phelps Luck Elementary School, which would have been part of the superintendent's initiative to improve academic performance in the county's focus schools, a label that entitles them to more resources because they have lower test scores and a higher concentration of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches.

The big winners in yesterday's vote were teachers.

For many months, teachers have complained that their 10th-place state ranking for salaries for first-year teachers with bachelor's degrees put them at a disadvantage in attracting new teachers.

Howard County Education Association President Joe Staub and board members would not comment about the salary increases because the board is in negotiations. Teachers are slated to vote on a final agreement next month.

"We are confident that we will pick up ground in the [state] rankings," board member Stephen C. Bounds said.

Not only did board members add $16.6 million to the proposal for salary increases, they increased the teacher pool, adding positions at all grade levels. Some of the additions include:

Three middle school reading teachers.

Two media assistants for focus schools.

Six high school science teachers and seven high school social studies teachers, reducing class sizes in those areas to 20 students per teacher.

One part-time art resource teacher and one part-time music resource teacher.

Board member Karen B. Campbell said she was particularly glad the panel also approved adding five guidance counselors to the budget, one for Wilde Lake High School and the rest for elementary schools.

"That's the beginning of the completion of [having full-time] guidance counselors in all elementary schools," Campbell said.

The beefed-up budget also includes many items community members requested at a public hearing earlier this month, including:

$50,000 to provide graphing calculators to students in advanced math classes.

More than $100,000 to replace athletic uniforms and equipment.

$100,000 to replace performing arts uniforms.

$1,500 for ROTC field trips.

$31,000 to hire a student activities adviser.

The board also voted to add $150,000 to begin replacing old or unsafe playground equipment. Historically, the board has paid to remove unsafe equipment but never to replace it. That duty usually fell on the PTAs' shoulders.

In the past several months, parents and PTA members have complained that the cost was too great and that the board should bear the responsibility because playground equipment often becomes part of elementary school curricula.

"There's also equity issues here," Bounds said. "Some schools can afford to replace them. Others can't."

Associate Superintendent Sydney Cousin said it would cost $55,000 to replace the equipment at one elementary school.

The board said it would leave it up to central office staff to decide how to divide the $150,000, though several board members asked that schools without kindergarten play areas be upgraded first.

"Maybe we could talk to the County Council about this being a capital budget item in the future," board Chairman Sandra H. French said.

The proposed budget is scheduled to be submitted to County Executive James N. Robey by March 15, who will send it to the County Council for approval. The county would be responsible for funding about $255 million of the budget.

Robey said there is no way the county can fund all the board's requests.

"We have about $40 million in new revenue and their request, if fully funded, would take $35 million of that, which is simply not possible," Robey said.

"I intend to honor my commitment to teachers by funding their negotiated pay raises. I also intend to fund any genuine class-size reduction efforts. Anything beyond that will, in all likelihood, be reduced."

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