Board OKs school budgets

Despite cuts, $737.5 million blueprint OK appears cordial

May 30, 2008|By John-John Williams IV | John-John Williams IV,Sun Reporter

The Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved a combined $737.5 million for capital and operating budgets and thanked elected officials for a collaborative effort despite economic strains.

The 30 minutes it took for the board to breeze through a slew of budget items might have appeared effortless, but Tuesday's approval was the result of months of revisions and compromises between high-ranking school officials, board members, and county government.

Initially, the operating budget submitted by Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin was $661 million. That amount had to be adjusted this month after Cousin learned that County Executive Ken Ulman had ordered that $4 million be cut. Cousin's cuts included: $1.3 million from maintenance projects; $560,000 for 10 new technology teachers at the middle school level; $500,000 for new furniture in some schools; $300,000 for new textbooks; $133,000 for a new Web television employee and equipment; $73,00 for a public information specialist; and $48,000 for two student assistants.

In addition, the county funded $80.47 million of the $113.8 million Cousin requested for capital funds. As a result, the school board decided to defer $33.3 million worth of items including a $13.7 million addition and renovation to office space used at the old Cedar Lane School; $12 million to build a new maintenance/ warehouse facility; $3.5 million for systemic renovations; and $4 million for site acquisitions and construction reserves.

"Considering the economic times, I think we did very good," said board member Larry Cohen. "Based on what is going on, I'd like to thank our elected officials. I think it is a good budget considering this."

Board Vice Chairman Ellen Flynn Giles also thanked elected officials.

"They've always put education first," she said.

"This budget enables us to continue many of the good things that we've started," said board member Diane Mikulis.

Board member Sandra H. French said she was thrilled with the budget because the school system was able to add 164 new positions.

"We are able to address the average child," she said. "Every student should see a slight decrease in class size."

Board Chairman Frank Aquino praised Cousin.

"It's easy as board members to raise the flag for more money," he said. "It's made a lot easier when the superintendent brings us a defendable budget."

The budget meeting was bittersweet for David White, the school system's budget officer. He will retire at the end of the school year after 17 years with the Howard County school system.

"I'm relaxed to be at this stage," he said. "It's time for me to move on."

White, who came to the school system after working for the Howard County government for 15 years, said he is pleased with the way the budget process has improved.

"The process has been smoothed out over time," he said.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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