Disappointed that many new positions and programs won't be funded next year, the Howard County school board nevertheless approved the 2001 operating and capital budgets yesterday. .
Board Chairwoman Sandra H. French also signed yesterday employee contracts for the school years 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 , the first multiyear contract that school district employees have been granted in at least 10 years.
The final budget contains about $6 million less than the $340 million the board requested from the County Council. After weeks of haggling, the council provided the board with $334,387,080.
By transferring funds, the board will be able to reduce class sizes in second grade and add three reading teachers and two guidance counselors.
At Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's suggestion, the board moved about $130,000 from school transportation to classroom uses.
The reading teachers and guidance counselors are needed, but cutting the proposed transportation budget by more than $230,000 hurts, French said.
"So many parents don't understand why we can't go into the developments to pick up the children," French said. "Our staff struggles to maintain the current walking distance [for students to bus stops] just with the current monies that are allotted."
The board is relieved at being able to reduce second-grade class sizes but had hoped to do more, French said.
"I still am deeply disappointed that we were not able to continue with the class-size reduction on the high school level for the sciences and the social sciences," French said, noting that six new high school science positions and seven new high school social studies positions that had been planned won't be added to next year's staff.
Other initiatives that failed to make it into the final budget include extended-day kindergarten at four county focus schools, after-school tutors for and transportation to proposed after-school programs, 10 new elementary assistants, two media assistants at focus schools, a summer reading tutoring program and replacement of performing arts uniforms.
"There are a lot of things that the public was hoping we would be able to provide them that we won't be able to," said board member Stephen C. Bounds, "and it's just disappointing."
French said many of those items should be priorities for the next superintendent, John R. O'Rourke, when he presents the next operating budget.
Board member Laura Waters said she thinks it would be a good idea for the board to transfer money from a proposed increase in school paper to other academic areas.
Assistant Superintendents Maurice F. Kalin and Sandra J. Erickson warned the board against such a move. "Paper is one of a teacher's basic tools, and if you're talking about taking away the basic tools in the classroom," Kalin said, "be very careful when you make that kind of choice."
The board noted positive developments in the budget, including the district's ability to begin replacing playground equipment at elementary schools and provide a pay increase of more than 5 percent for teachers.