Board hears of budget cuts

Schools chief outlines his proposals for trimming $3.1 million

`This has a significant impact'

County revenue shortfalls forcing the reductions

Howard County

December 12, 2003|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Superintendent John R. O'Rourke told the Howard County Board of Education last night that money would have to be cut from multiple areas to meet County Executive James N. Robey's request that the school system return $3.1 million to make up for revenue shortfalls.

"This has a significant impact on our operating budget," said O'Rourke, who told the board he is considering:

Leaving some empty staff positions unfilled to save $1 million.

"Scrupulously monitoring" transportation expenditures to possibly save nearly $700,000.

Trimming $300,000 from purchases of supplies and ma- terials.

Trimming $1 million from various other departments, including custodial.

O'Rourke said he will update the board monthly on the process, which he called a "work in progress," not only to keep members informed, but to make sure everyone is aware of the hardship the school system has been asked to endure.

Sandra H. French, who passed the chairmanship of the school board to Courtney Watson in the annual leadership vote last night, said members might consider putting up a thermometerlike gauge whose mercury would rise as money was sliced from the budget, showing how close the system is to fever.

"That's my attempt at a joke," she added, but O'Rourke appeared to seriously consider the idea.

Also last night, the board approved a design for a replacement Cedar Lane School to be built as a wing onto Lime Kiln Middle School, which shares a campus with Reservoir High School and Fulton Elementary.

State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick has said she believes the design should be a national model because it allows Cedar Lane's 120 severely disabled students to interact regularly with those who are not disabled. Some parents of disabled children have said they think the design is flawed, however, because it separates children based on ability.

The school, set to open in 2005, will be built on the site of several sports fields - prompting board member Joshua Kaufman to quote pop singer Cat Stevens: "Where do the children play?"

He was told the loss of the fields was a necessary trade-off.

Patti Caplan, chairwoman of the school system's calendar committee, also recommended to the board that the next school year begin Aug. 30, 2004, and end June 14, 2005, assuming snow days do not require an extension. She also suggested that a committee be formed to look into moving from a semester exam schedule to a quarterly one, which would shave three to six half-days from the calendar.

"The number of half-days has been and continues to be a concern for the committee," Caplan said. It had been a goal to reduce them, but the target wasn't met. If the board accepts the calendar committee's recommendations, high schools would again have 12 half-days while elementary and middle schools would have 10.

Under the proposal, the longest stretch of schooling uninterrupted by holidays or half-days is three weeks, which occurs three times: in December, April and May.

The board will hold a public hearing on the recommendations Jan. 8.

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