Howard school board OKs $675.1 million budget

February 23, 2010|By John-John Williams IV | john-john.williams@baltsun.com

The Howard County school board voted 6-1 Tuesday morning to approve a $675.1 million operating budget for fiscal year 2011.

The lone vote of dissent came from board member Allen Dyer, who opposed the board spending money to provide transportation to parochial school students. Instead, Dyer wanted the board to spend $537,000 to offer foreign language at all elementary schools systemwide.

"I think that as a board member I am against transportation to nonpublic schools being part of our budget," Dyer said after the meeting.

Dyer has questioned the transportation of parochial school students in the past. Dyer sought an opinion on the issue, but the Maryland State Department of Education ruled last year that he did not have any standing. He has since appealed that decision to the Circuit Court, where it is under review.

Board chairwoman Ellen Flynn Giles, along with several other board members, objected to Dyer's plan.

"These are not the types of things that you discuss when you approve the budget," Giles said. "[His proposal] was not supported with a plan for how those funds would be used."

Dyer also said that he was displeased with the board's "lack of direction."

"We failed in many ways to look at the priorities we have as a school system," Dyer said during the meeting. "Just because we don't have any increases in funds doesn't mean we should hold the line."

Dyer's words appeared to upset several board members.

"We were very serious about not stepping back. We wanted to provide for the needs of students," Giles said after the meeting. "I'm not exactly sure what he wanted us to do."

Dyer and board member Larry Cohen had a lengthy, heated discussion after the vote. Dyer declined to discuss the conversation, saying only that Cohen wanted the comments to remain private.

The operating budget approved by the board Tuesday is a $10.3 million increase from the budget proposal unveiled by Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin in January. The increase is due in large part to an increased pension rate from 7.58 percent to 10.83 percent, and additional health fund contribution costs by the school system.

The approved budget does not include salaries negotiated between the school system and the unions representing teachers and support personnel. That process is continuing and is expected to take several more months, according to Sue Mascaro, the school system's director of staff relations.

The budget will now go to the county executive, who can make reductions before submitting a proposal to the County Council. The council, which can make further cuts or restore funding, has until late May to approve a budget that will take effect June 1.

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