Schools budget slashed by board

Capital spending plan cut to $116.6 million

county warns it is still too high

Howard County

October 10, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education shaved millions of dollars off the superintendent's proposed capital budget last night in a marathon meeting that was continuing near midnight.

Participating in the meeting was the newest addition to the five-member board, Joshua M. Kaufman, who had taken the oath of office hours earlier. The 32-year-old father of two took the board seat given up by Virginia Charles in June because she said the job was too stressful and damaging to her health.

By 11 p.m., the board had pared Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's budget request from $149.8 million to $116.6 million - in part by eliminating additions at Hammond Elementary School and Hammond Middle School and doing away with a planned cafeteria expansion at Clarksville Middle.

Members also deferred an addition at Gorman Crossing Elementary for a year, at the urging of member Courtney Watson, who suggested multiple cuts in an effort to produce a responsible budget.

But the county's budget director, Raymond S. Wacks, said a request of even $115 million would be nearly impossible to fund.

"It's still an extraordinary number," Wacks said. "Especially when you consider that last year, the county authorized in its [capital] budget around $80 million for everything" - including education, police, libraries and Howard Community College.

"Funding this and other needs is going to be extremely difficult," Wacks said. "We have other problems to solve along with those in education."

In an early presentation, Wacks told board members that county income tax revenues fell short this year for the first time, leaving a $10 million shortfall in the budget for the past fiscal year, which ended June 30. The shortfall will have an effect on education money this year, Wacks said, although he did not know specifics.

"It's going to take several months for us to figure it out," Wacks said, adding that he would have to study the state economy to better determine the impact. "It's not like I can push a button and see what happens in the future."

In other business, the board approved a general plan to decentralize the school system's vocational education program, now housed at two crowded high schools. The new plan will offer career education at three levels: in schools, at regional centers and in a central location.

Some board members, including James P. O'Donnell, worried that a suggestion for students to provide their own transportation for some of the career classes would prevent children from participating.

"There could be some inequity," O'Donnell said, and asked school system staff members to reconsider. Assistant Superintendent Robert Glascock said he would look into it.

Members also voted to allow the school system to put in place a plan to add lights to high school stadiums throughout the county, which was met with loud applause from the audience. Only Howard High School has lights now.

Patricia S. Gordon, vice chairman of the school board, said she had received overwhelming support for the move.

A report presented to the board outlined reading and math intervention programs - designed to bring all students up to state standards - that will be phased into schools throughout the county over the next three years.

"Our job is to ensure that we accelerate the performance of every child, one student at a time," Glascock said.

The academic-assistance efforts will include some individual tutoring at a cost of $7,200 per school; summer courses that will cost $46,000 per school; extended classes in algebra and geometry, and computer-assisted instruction programs that will cost $32,000 to set up in each school.

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