School funding boost pushed

Council Democrats agree on way to add $220,000 to budget

May 17, 2006|By LARRY CARSON | LARRY CARSON,SUN REPORTER

Howard County Council Democrats agreed yesterday on a way to funnel another $220,000 to county schools in next fiscal year's budget - enough to pay for a guidance counselor, a half-time psychologist and two more custodians.

In addition, school Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin said he may be able to free enough funds already in the board's budget to hire one more guidance counselor in the school year that starts in September. He will make recommendations to the board tomorrow, he said.

"That's what we're working on right now," Cousin said.

The extra money for schools would come from the proposed budget's $1.8 million contingency fund but would leave the school board short of money for one more guidance counselor, a pupil personnel worker and three more custodians that were part of the board's request.

"It satisfies part of our need. The bottom line is, we're grateful for the positions," said Joshua Kaufman, the school board chairman.

The board got $3.6 million less from County Executive James N. Robey than the $448.1 million in local funds the board requested.

Councilman Calvin Ball, a newly appointed east Columbia Democrat who asked board members for their top priorities, was the author of this latest move, he and council Vice Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat said.

"I went to bat and fought pretty hard for those positions," Ball said, enlisting Guzzone and west Columbia Democrat Ken Ulman to form a majority. "Right now, there is a need in the school system. That's a priority. Many of my constituents have let me know that."

Guzzone said he did not feel that removing money from the contingency fund would hurt. He said the Democrats are "all fairly convinced that this particular cut won't be significant."

"I think we can live with that," Jon Seeman, the county budget director, said about the reduction.

But west county Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga was not convinced.

"I would not reach into the contingency fund for that. We can do without those positions this year," he said, adding that "anything they look for now has to be a political stunt. Where do you stop?"

County Council Chairman Christopher J. Merdon, an Ellicott City Republican, also criticized the move.

"We need to have a more disciplined approach to budgeting. We can't fund everything, despite the temptation to do so," he said.

Ball denied a political motive. He is running for the council seat to which he was appointed last month after former Councilman David A. Rakes resigned. Guzzone is running for a seat in the House of Delegates and Ulman is running for county executive.

Feaga, who is not running for office this year, said he supports the budget proposed by Robey.

"I think the county executive treated the school system fairly," Feaga said.

larry.carson@baltsun.com

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