Board OKs new budget for schools

Members trim only $35,770 from O'Rourke request

`Bare minimal survival'

Plan raises spending by $20 million

a pay increase not included

Howard County

February 27, 2002|By Tanika White | Tanika White,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education approved yesterday an operating budget for the coming school year that includes no allowance for anticipated salary increases for teachers and other system employees but still is $20 million larger than this year's budget.

Last month, Superintendent John R. O'Rourke requested $389.6 million to run the schools next year, excluding possible salary increases. He called the figure conservative, despite the 5.6 percent increase from the current year's spending levels. He added no new programs, and made only some negligible increases in areas clamoring for more money.

The budget approved by the board was $35,000 lower than O'Rourke's request.

"We've gone through a very occasionally torturous process to get to where we are this morning," O'Rourke told board members, who questioned whether his budget request could really cover all the schools' needs. "In fact, the needs are substantially more that what is reflected here."

Still, expecting one of the tightest economies in recent years, board members felt it appropriate to lower the superintendent's preliminary request, leaving some wiggle room for the upsurge that is sure to occur when teachers' contract negotiations are completed.

"That's an item that could make us do a lot of soul-searching," said board Chairwoman Jane B. Schuchardt.

"This is absolute bare minimal survival," said board member Virginia Charles, adding that she would like to add money in many areas, including the Office of Academic Support, media assistants, school psychologists, full-time counselors and in-school alternative education programs.

"We are just surviving and barely surviving with this budget," Charles said.

When contract negotiations are completed, O'Rourke said, his staff will submit a supplemental budget that reflects any proposed pay raises for school system employees, himself or his staff.

Officials have been unwilling to speculate as to how much the budget request might increase when salary increases are added, but last year's raises added about $19 million for all system employees, said David White, the school budget director. Two years ago, the figure was more than $17 million.

Yesterday, board members voted to reduce O'Rourke's request by $35,770, mostly in savings realized from opening Reservoir High School with freshmen and sophomores next year.

The vote came after board members had agreed to add $40,000 for performing arts uniforms at Reservoir for activities such as band and choir.

"This is not going to take care of everything," said board Vice Chairwoman Sandra H. French, who suggested the addition. "But at least it gives them some place to work from."

Board member Patricia S. Gordon disagreed with French that uniforms were a priority in a year when the budget is so lean.

"I would like to find a more substantial place to add money if there's money to add," she said.

Gordon told O'Rourke's top aides that, if surplus money surfaces, she would like to see it given to the Office of Academic Support, which seeks to understand and minimize dysfunctional patterns and gaps in academic achievement -- an issue officials have said is a "top priority" for Howard.

That office submitted a request for more than $130,000 in increased funding to accommodate growth in the number of students it serves, but nothing was included in O'Rourke's proposal.

Kimberly Statham, associate superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said her office would definitely consider that option.

"We are determined to give all children what they need," Statham said. "These are valuable services and we will be committed to that."

The board will submit its request March 15 to the county executive. It then will go to the County Council. The final figure will be announced May 31.

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