School budgets approved

Record $714.9 million - a $75 million rise - allocated for operating and capital costs

February 28, 2007|By John-John Williams IV sun reporter

The Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved yesterday a record $714.9 million for the 2008 operating and capital budgets, which Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin called "realistic" and "worthy of full funding."

The amount represents a $75 million increase over the current $639.9 million in combined operating and capital budgets.

The $615.3 million operating budget includes: $13.8 million to add 256 new teachers; a $9.7 million increase for employee health insurance; $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.

"This is a day of hope," said board member Sandra H. French. "This is the day that we put the money behind our mission. This process has been wonderful. I do hope that we get every penny."

The budgets will be sent to County Executive Ken Ulman, who will have until April 15 to make cuts.

The County Council will have until May to give final approval. Council members can restore any funding that the executive removes - if they also find a way to pay for it.

Diane Mikulis, the school board chairman, is confident in the need for full funding.

"It is very realistic, and it reflects what is necessary to do the job," Mikulis said.

The operating budget also includes $29.5 million for an increase in teacher salaries, which has been tentatively agreed upon by the school system and the four unions that represent the majority of its 9,000 employees.

Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have approved their contract, Cousin said.

Members of the Howard County Administrators Association and the Howard County Education Association, which has units for educational support professionals and teachers, are reviewing their agreements.

Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, which represents 5,500 employees, said she supports the overall 5 percent increase to teacher salaries in the operating budget. She added that there is room for improvement.

"Our people can't afford to live here," DeLacy said.

"My goal is to soon be at the level of Montgomery County," she said. Howard County ranks fourth in the state for starting teacher salaries; Montgomery County is first.

The 2008 operating budget also includes funding for 53 technology teachers, which will allow teachers to have an additional hour of planning time each week.

DeLacy said that workload is a concern for teachers.

"Forty-five percent of [school system employees] leave Howard County within the first five years of working," DeLacy said. "Workload is a major issue."

The board also approved a $99.6 million capital budget. That budget received preliminary approval in October.

The 2008 capital budget includes: $11.7 million to expand full-day kindergarten at nine schools; $10.9 million for a new auditorium and renovation at Glenelg High School; $18.9 million for a comprehensive renovation at Mount Hebron High School; and $32.1 million for renovations at Clarksville Middle School and Worthington, Clemens Crossing and Waterloo elementary schools.

The Mount Hebron renovation has been a source of debate. Parents are questioning what renovation plan would be most beneficial for the school.

Raymond Brown, the system's chief operating officer, said that the project could be "phased in" during a two- to three-year process.

Since Cousin unveiled his proposed operating budget in January, the school board has held a series of public meetings during which each part of the budget was dissected and discussed.

During the meetings, board members asked administrators to demonstrate the needs of their departments.

Veteran board member Patricia Gordon said the process was collegial.

"I know we kept you all up each night, but you came through," Gordon said to the central office administrators.

Board newcomer Larry Cohen agreed.

"Your wisdom and knowledge helped me with this," he said.

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