School board begins dividing limited budget pie

Operating budget is nearly $12 million less than sought

May 14, 2004|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Board of Education wrestled last night with divvying up an operating budget that will be nearly $12 million short of the amount it had requested.

In a letter sent Tuesday, County Council Chairman Guy Guzzone said council members intended to approve $334.6 million in county funds - as recommended by County Executive James N. Robey - for the school system fiscal year that begins in July, though the board had asked for $345.6 million.

The board had also asked the state for $122.5 million, but the amount granted will be about $1 million less.

During yesterday evening's work session, the board split the money among 12 spending categories, after accepting $12 million worth of cuts that interim schools Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin offered as possibilities last month. The members designated:

$7.5 million for administration costs, which include expenditures by the Board of Education, the superintendent's office and school system support services. The amount allocated is $192,000 less than requested, though still higher than the current budget's allotment of $6.36 million.

$213.5 million for instruction - $5.6 million shy of the requested amount - which includes textbooks, educational materials and teacher salaries. Another $1.75 million in instructional materials will be provided in the capital budget. This year's operating allotment for instruction is $194.93 million.

$1.96 million for pupil personnel services, which as a department was hoping for $1.99 million. The category includes programs to improve student attendance and connect with the community. The current budget is $1.78 million.

$3.6 million for health services, such as school health aides, health rooms and record maintenance. The category took a minor cut from the requested amount, just $3,900. The current budget has $3.34 million.

$23.6 million for transportation, which includes busing. The amount is $22,500 less than requested, but more than the current year's $22.96 million.

$27.6 million for plant operations, such as safety and custodial services. The board expected to put $28.1 million in this category. The current operations budget is $26 million.

$13.3 million for plant maintenance, which includes programs to repair school system facilities. The board had requested $15.2 million, compared with the $12.2 million allocated this year. But the reduction will be partially offset by the use of $1 million from the capital budget in this area. The current budget allows $12.2 million for plant maintenance.

$69.7 million for fixed charges, which include employee benefits. The board had asked for $72.14 million, though the category had $64.4 million budgeted for it this year.

$34.6 million for midlevel administration, which includes salaries for curriculum development staff and school administration. The board has asked for $35.3 million, while the current year's budget has $31.36 million.

$3.7 million for community services, a program allowing community groups to use school buildings for a fee. The board had asked for $3.8 million, and the current year's allocation is $3.2 million.

$737,190 for capital outlay, which includes costs associated with planning for facility renovations. The category allocation was just $3,000 short of the requested amount. The current allocation is $622,030.

$61.3 million for special education - about $500,000 short of the $61.8 million requested. The current allocation is $54 million.

The board was able to restore a relatively small amount to the budget that Cousin had recommended cutting: $40,000 of it for contracted auditing services to improve the budget process, and $212,970 for instruction materials. The board also cut $6,000 from its conference fund, which will allow two members, instead of all five, to attend a national boards of education gathering.

Still, the move was too small for Courtney Watson, the board chairman, who thought no one should attend the conference.

"I would rather the money be spent on textbooks, teacher training," she said, cautioning other members soon after to "please think about what you're doing and what message you're sending to the rest of the system."

But member Patricia Gordon said the message is a positive one: "I think what we're saying is that we want to be an informed board."

The board also approved an amended capital budget request last night. . Deferrals of several projects and increased state aid has lowered the request to $95.7 million.

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