Budget session draws 200

Residents demand that council support full funding for schools

$8.5 million apart

Many fear counselors, class-size reductions would be hurt by plan

May 07, 2000|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

More than 200 people showed up yesterday at the Howard County Council's public hearing and called upon members to fully fund the Board of Education's request for next school year's operating budget.

Board members have asked for $35 million in new county money to pay for a 5 percent increase in teacher salaries, opening new schools, costs related to reducing class sizes in elementary schools and other new programs and positions.

County Executive James N. Robey has said he will fund about $26.5 million. The council has the right to restore money to the schools' budget.

"The difference between teaching 27 and teaching 19 is astronomical -- and doable," said Kathy Rogers, PTA president at Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School. "Yet, if the budget is not fully funded, that initiative could be cut. Don't force the board to make that kind of cut."

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey and board members have said that without the $8.5 million, the district might not be able to finish reducing class sizes in first and second grades, an initiative that began this year.

In addition, they said, most of the new programs and positions will have to be cut from the budget -- such as adding full-time guidance counselors in elementary schools, providing replacement band/performing arts uniforms and playground equipment, and hiring specialists to help teachers better educate low-income and minority students.

The fiscal 2001 school budget "is an equity budget," said Jacqueline F. Brown, director of the district's office of academic support, who backs the board's spending plans. "This budget is about doing what is essential to make sure there is no child left behind."

Hickey said, without adding any new programs, Robey's figure is about $4 million short, because of health insurance and transportation cost increases.

"I'm not asking them for the full $8 million back," Hickey said. "I know that would be very hard for them to do. But at least give us this [$4 million] so we can do the things he [Robey] said he would fund."

Many of the 80-plus teachers, parents, students and district officials who signed up to speak pleaded for the full funding of the budget, saying they were concerned about completing the class-size reductions, providing equity in schools and improving special education programs.

Pupils speak

Several pupils from Hollifield Station Elementary School presented testimony to the council about the importance of having a full-time guidance counselor at all district elementary schools. Many guidance counselors split their weeks between two schools.

One fifth-grader said when her great-grandfather died, she and her younger brother were grief-stricken in school and Hollifield Station's guidance counselor pulled them out of class to help them find creative ways to cope. It was fortunate, the fifth-grader said, the counselor wasn't working at another school that day.

Many parents asked the council to restore funding for band and performing arts uniforms, which the school board has not funded since the early 1990s because of budget constraints. Anticipating a surplus, the board had included uniforms -- as well as the replacement of playground equipment -- in its budget.

At least two speakers said they were upset that the school board spent $8,500 on a portrait of Hickey, who is retiring in June, when budget cuts seem to be inevitable.

`Responsible and responsive'

Board Chairwoman Sandra H. French said the $340 million operating budget is "responsible and responsive," reflecting the community's desire for more equity, more money for teachers and smaller classes.

The County Council has scheduled two work sessions on the schools' budget in the coming weeks.

The school board will adopt its final budget, based on the council's decisions, on June 1.

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