Chief shows school plan

Budget proposal seeks $593 million for 2001-2002

10% more than last year

Reading teachers, raises among costs outlined by Parham

January 18, 2001|By Stephanie Desmon | Stephanie Desmon,SUN STAFF

In an effort to beef up the good things going on inside Anne Arundel County's classrooms, Superintendent Carol S. Parham proposed yesterday a $593 million spending plan that includes money for middle school reading teachers, innovative special education programs and a salary increase for all employees.

Parham is asking for 10 percent more - an additional $54.7 million - than the schools received last year.

She presented to school board members last night her recommended budget for fiscal 2001-2002, which also contains money to continue systemwide computer upgrades, to improve substandard school libraries and to add 116 teaching positions to keep pace with enrollment, shrink the size of classes in first and second grade, accommodate more students who come from overseas and expand an alternative school.

"As our student population becomes more diverse, we must seek new strategies to reach all children, those with special needs, those who are gifted, those who are new to the American culture and speak languages other than English, those who may be living in poverty and those who are not achieving at appropriate levels," Parham told the board.

The board will hold two public hearings and two workshops before approving an operating budget Feb. 21. County Executive Janet S. Owens and the County Council dole out most of the funds (the rest comes from state and federal coffers), and the school system rarely gets all that is requested. Last year, the board asked for $549 million and got $538 million.

"I think Mrs. Owens and the members of the council are extremely supportive of education and they will do the best they can," Parham said before the meeting.

Parham has made some of those tough choices. Her staff requested $612 million worth of items, and she pared that down by $19 million.

The budget again puts a premium on teacher training and recruitment, particularly in math, science, reading and special education, where there are teacher shortages. It asks for $500,000 in signing bonuses to attract the best teachers and for $425,000 in raises for substitute teachers, which would bring pay for long-term substitutes from $100 a day to $125 a day.

All 8,300 employees would be in line for 4 percent raises, with 5,100 teachers entitled to an additional 1 percent from the state.

"It's a daunting budget," Owens said, adding that she was pleased to see some of her priorities - particularly technology and reducing class sizes - included.

Owens has agreed to turn over space on the Mary E. Moss Academy site in Crownsville - currently occupied in part by county employees - to expand the alternative program, but only if renovations aren't too costly. The school is for students who can't make it in traditional high schools and are considered potential dropouts.

"I know the need in this area is really very serious," Owens said. "One retired military person who teaches at Mary Moss said, `You know, you probably need four of them in the county.'"

Owens doesn't know how much money there will be for the county schools and beyond. "There will be hard decisions based on, `What money do I have?'" she said.

Parham is also asking for an amendment to the school system's $67 million capital budget request. She wants to add construction of a $1 million gymnasium at Crofton Elementary School. "The crowding at that school is becoming more and more critical," she said.

The school has a multipurpose room that is used for gym classes, lunch periods, assemblies and more. Parham called that "a scheduling nightmare. It simply can't continue that way."

In special education, where there are 45 new positions, the system is searching for a better way to educate students with serious learning disabilities and to lower the student-teacher ratio.

Officials also hope to create a Learning Academy, modeled on a Howard County program that gives intensive instruction to those with severe learning problems, said Kenneth P. Lawson, associate superintendent for instruction and student services. The academy would be for students who are not being properly served in their current schools and those who are being sent to private schools outside the county with tuition paid by the school system.

Special education students make up almost 13 percent of the systemwide total, he said.

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