School budget is likely to rise

Salaries and additional teachers seen upping the ante in operating budget

February 25, 2007|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,sun reporter

Top school system officials expect that the Howard County Board of Education will approve an operating budget Tuesday that exceeds the record $581 million proposal unveiled by Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin last month.

The tentative agreement between the school system and the four unions representing county employees, as well as additional teaching positions discussed by school board members, likely will further increase the budget, which is $30 million higher than the current budget.

Cousin's proposal includes $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 schools, $300,000 for a 2 percent pay increase for bus drivers, 13 new custodians to address the needs of older schools and 12 new technology employees to allow the system to become more self-sufficient.

Board member Ellen Flynn Giles said she expects that the board will also request an increase in the number of new technology teachers.

Cousin proposed hiring 23 computer technology teachers, which would allow teachers to have an additional hour of planning time each week. But after the board learned that the school system would receive additional state funding, board members wanted to hire 53 technology teachers.

Most of the additional money will cover salaries, said David S. White, the system's budget officer.

Last year, employee salary increases cost the system $20.8 million.

"That was based on a lower base of employees and a lower salary base," White said.

Giles said that adding the negotiated salary increases to the operating budget is vital.

"It is very hard to look at the budget knowing that a large percentage is not included," she said.

Diane Mikulis, chairman of the school board, said that this year's operating-budget process has run smoothly.

"I think there was a lot of upfront work done by the staff, so there was an agreement of priorities," Mikulis said. "There was also a recognition that not all requests could be funded. They did that screening for us."

The board is scheduled to approve the operating budget and the $99.6 million capital budget, which received preliminary approval in October, at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Howard County Board of Education in Ellicott City.

After Tuesday's approval, 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 any funding that the executive removes - if they find a way to pay for it.

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