Proposed budget favors teachers

Cousin plan includes $30 million increase for personnel, raises

January 05, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

Howard County public school teachers can expect more planning time, a pay raise and more co-workers to address enrollment increases if Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's proposed 2008 fiscal year operating budget is approved.

Cousin was scheduled to present the record $581 million budget to the board last night.

Under Cousin's budget proposal - a $30 million increase from the current budget - elementary school teachers would get more planning time through the creation of 23 computer technology teachers.

The system plans to hire 50.

The technology teachers will provide an hour of instruction per week, which will result in additional planning time for classroom teachers.

"We have known for years that elementary school teachers have the fewest minutes of planning time," said Sandra Erickson, the system's chief administrative and academic officer.

"We have wanted to do something for several years."

The lack of planning time has resulted in a lack of teacher retention, according to Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, the union representing 5,500 employees.

Forty-five percent of the system's new teachers leave within five years, according to DeLacy.

2008 proposed budget

Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's record $581 million operating budget proposal for the 2008 fiscal year will include:

$10.5 million to add 206 new teachers

a $9.9 million increase in health insurance for employees

$2.5 million to add full-day kindergarten to 11 remaining schools

$300,000 for a 2 percent pay increase for bus drivers

13 new custodians to address the needs of older schools

12 new technology employees that will allow the system to become more self-sufficient

10 additional employees who will increase the staffing pool - people who fill in where needed - to 51; this will help the system to address unforeseen enrollment increases

Eight new English for Speakers of Other Languages, or ESOL, instructors to address the system's growing ethnic diversity. "Many of them say they leave because of workload and working conditions," DeLacy said.

"Any initiative that allows for more planning time would be appreciated by the teachers. We hope that this will decrease the workload on assistants, as well."

Board member Patricia Gordon said that planning time is extremely important to teachers.

"It is such a good part of our program that we provide planning time," said Gordon, a retired New York City administrator.

"It is important to provide teachers with time to get together and make sure that everybody is on the same page."

Cousin also plans to increase the system's staffing pool by 10 to 51.

"We will be able to meet unforeseen enrollment issues," he said.

Cousin's proposal does not include money for employee raises.

The school system is in the process of negotiating contracts with four bargaining units that represent teachers, support staff and administrators.

Howard County teachers are the fourth-highest paid in the state, which is up from eighth a year before.

Cousin said he hopes that negotiations can be resolved by Feb. 27, the day the board is scheduled to adopt the operating budget.

DeLacy declined to predict a timeline.

"We are hopeful [that we will complete the process in time], but I cannot make any type of definitive prediction," DeLacy said.

In addition to the question mark created by the contract negotiations, Cousin's health insurance numbers are likely to change with new projections.

"These things are very preliminary, because there will changes," Cousin said.

The budget also includes money for 13 new custodians to address the needs of older schools, according to Cousin.

"This has been a neglected part of the budget," he said.

Twelve new technology employees will help the school system prepare to transition into a new student data collection program.

Last month, Cousin announced the need for the new positions, after a series of problems associated with the school system's current student-data computer program.

Erickson said the new positions are just the beginning of the system's plans to revamp its technology infrastructure.

School administrators will present a technology plan to the school board Jan. 25.

The school board will hold a public hearing Feb. 1 and public work sessions Feb. 6, 13, 15 and 20.

After the school board approves the operating budget next month, the operating and capital budgets will go to the county executive, who can make cuts.

The County Council gets the final say, and members can restore funding that the executive removes - if members find a way to pay for it.

Cousin said he is optimistic about the budget being approved and funded.

"We have put together a conservative, fundable and defendable budget," Cousin said.

He added: "The county executive has said that education drives Howard County. An investment in Howard County students results in an investment for the community."

Gordon, who has served on the board since 2000, admitted that the $30 million increase was a lot.

"But I feel that Sydney can justify all of [the needs]," she said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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