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Board approves $697 million budget request

The Howard County Board of Education Tuesday unanimously approved a $697 million operating request for fiscal year 2013.

The amount approved — an increase of 1.9 percent from the 2012 budget — is almost the same as the amount initially proposed by Cousin in January.

"Not even a penny off," said board Chairwoman Sandra French.

While the request of the county remains the same, the board is requesting $198,000 more from the state.

Differences lie in the internal distribution of the funds, as costs for a proposed program and increased staff were offset within the budget by cutting funds for textbooks, general supplies and board transportation to conferences, said Ray Brown, the system's chief operating officer.

The school system also is postponing a library and media upgrade at Atholton High School in Columbia to 2014, at which point renovations at the school will be complete.

The budget includes funds for several new positions, including a continuous improvement coordinator to oversee efforts to reduce costs and improve customer service in the system and two full-time elementary academic mentors for the Black Student Achievement Program.

Also included is $500,000 for an e-learning pilot program for high-schoolers.

Through the pilot, every county high school could offer similar access to Advanced Placement and world language classes — the availability of which is currently based on a student interest. A digital textbook pilot would also address the problem of replacing outdated textbooks.

The program would also create mid-level administration positions for a digital education officer and technical assistant.

The program was proposed by board member Brian Meshkin, and approved unanimously by the board at its final budget work session Feb. 16.

French praised the budget, especially the new digital learning program.

"I'm excited about the online school," she said. "It moves us forward with a plan — a whole, concentrated plan."

But some members noted that the budget did not include a contingency plan for dealing with the possibility that teacher pension costs could be shifted from the state to the county level. French said the Tuesday meeting was not the time or place for such a discussion, but agreed that a full discussion needed to be held in front of the public — and soon. French suggested such a discussion be held during the board's March 8 meeting.

"We're putting forth a budget that continues to show some restraint," board Vice Chairman Frank Aquino said. "That being said, we have this specter of the pensions issue hanging over our heads, and we need to advise the public at the appropriate time what the ramifications will be on the school system and seek their views and allow them time to react (to their other) elected officials who control our budget."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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