Budget cuts surprise schools

Robey took 37 percent off capital spending plan

`A serious situation'

Unannounced reductions of $700,000 are found

April 11, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

School system officials just got their hands on Howard County Executive James N. Robey's recommended capital budget Tuesday and they don't like what they're discovering in the plan that slashes their proposed spending by 37 percent.

Chief Business Officer Bruce Venter announced during a Board of Education meeting last night that he had found $700,000 in unannounced cuts, on top of the $32.7 million in reductions he was told to expect in a news release from Robey's office.

"This is a serious situation for us this year," Venter said.

Last year, 12.5 percent of the board's recommendations were not funded.

In addition to the $21 million cut from the budget to begin building Northern High School, the $3.2 million taken away from renovations at Faulkner Ridge, the $3 million sliced from elementary school site acquisition, the $2 million cut from the technology department (which Venter called "devastating") and the $1.6 million severed from the Cedar Lane renovation project, three other areas are taking hits.

About $300,000 has been cut from the school system's disabled-accessible renovation program, $200,000 from partition building and another $200,000 from previously approved funds for planning Lisbon Elementary's addition.

The reductions take about $33 million from the board's $87.9 million request.

"Once again, we made plans, and our plans are not being supported," said Sandra H. French, school board chairman, who along with her fellow board members urged the public to fight for its education money by testifying before the County Council on at 9 a.m. May 3 in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City.

The council will decide the final budget, which takes effect July 1, at the end of May.

The only acceptable cut on the list acknowledged by Venter was the Cedar Lane decrease, because the recommended capacity of the building has dropped by 25 percent, from 160 students to 120, according to new plans released last month.

The new proposal for Cedar Lane, a school that serves the neediest of the disabled population, suggests replacing the old, free-standing school with a wing attached to Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton.

The board gave preliminary approval to the plan last night so that school system could take steps to study the situation and assess environmental feasibility.

A public hearing on the school's placement is scheduled for May 8 and final board action is expected May 22. Already, several groups, including the Maryland Developmental Disabilities Council, have protested the plan because they find it counterproductive to educating disabled students among the typical student population as much as possible, as law requires.

The school board also learned last night that state aid will be reduced in the county by $1.7 million this coming fiscal year because of a multimillion-dollar reduction in an existing teacher salary program that passed in the Maryland General Assembly.

In other business, the school board heard a progress report on a five-year education master plan the county is developing, along with all other school districts, to receive funding under the Bridge to Excellence in Public Education Act.

Howard's master plan draft includes priorities such as eliminating achievement gaps, establishing more professional development opportunities and creating a separate master plan that looks at providing school facilities.

The state has suggested the districts base their plans on three questions Howard educators know well: What do we want for our children, how might we provide it, and how will we know when we've done it well.

A first draft of the plan will go before the board June 12, followed by a public hearing on it June 26. The final plans will be submitted to the state by Oct. 1.

Other meeting topics included the acceptance of a $1.2 million federal grant to be distributed in $400,000 allotments over three years. The money will be used to develop a community learning center project that focuses on 500 underachieving students and families from Running Brook and Bryant Woods Elementary schools and Wilde Lake Middle and Wilde Lake High schools.

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