School board ready to cut

Cousin lists 77 possible areas for reducing budget

Council hearing tomorrow

Nearly 20 teaching posts could be eliminated

Howard County

April 30, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Howard County's interim school superintendent outlined a list of 77 potential cuts to the school board's proposed operating budget last night in response to the county executive's announcement that he would not provide all of the $345.6 million requested in local funds.

"Some of the things will appear to be relatively painless," Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin told school board members during their evening meeting. "But many of them will have an impact on what we do as a system."

The cuts he offered would slice $12 million from the budget request, which covers the fiscal year beginning in July - $11 million that the county executive is denying and $1 million to account for a shortfall in state funds.

Cousin said he and his staff tried to choose from areas that would have the "least impact on the classroom," but instruction was still hit hard.

Nearly 20 teaching positions would be eliminated, along with $2 million worth of textbook replacements, which Cousin suggested deferring for a year.

The move would put the book substitution schedule on a 10-year-cycle, rather than the preferred eight.

"That's something we'd rather see reduced than lengthened," Cousin conceded. "It's much too long a replacement cycle when you think about how fast the world changes - every day it seems."

`A heartbreak'

Board member Sandra H. French agreed: "I really have a problem with decreasing textbooks. That is a heartbreak."

Staff development would also be trimmed across the board, along with various supplies and hoped-for repair projects.

"The things that are listed here are for the most part things we cannot really do without," Cousin said.

The County Council - which plans a public hearing on the education budget at 9 a.m. tomorrow at the George Howard Building in Ellicott City - could still choose to reinstate funds that County Executive James N. Robey said he would not provide, but the chances are slim.

"This happens every year," French said.

Last year, the school board had to cut $20 million from its original request, and - with that in mind - members this year had trimmed $7.6 million from the proposal before sending it to Robey for evaluation. But it wasn't enough.

Another approach

Board member Joshua Kaufman wondered whether the annual cuts were indicative of a need for a "structural shift" in the school system to avoid snipping relatively small amounts from many sources every year.

He suggested it might be time to consider "more radical departures" from the county education plan - such as increasing class size - to yield a long-term benefit.

But French was not immediately sold on the idea.

"Maybe I'm too cynical, but I think we will have an average of $8 [million] to $10 million to cut every year," she said, despite larger changes.

Still, Courtney Watson, the board chairman, said Kaufman's proposition was something to "keep in mind as we go forward."

The board will hold hearings and work sessions throughout next month to discuss the possible cuts before adopting a budget May 26.

Cousin's suggested list is available on the school system's Web site: www.hcpss.org.

In other action last night, the board approved renaming the Dasher Green-Owen Brown School. The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade facility in Columbia is now known as the Cradlerock School.

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