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Kittleman tackles ambitious budget request for Howard schools

Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman's $1.1 billion general fund operating budget for fiscal 2018 includes $572 million in county funding for the school system — $54 million less than the school board's record-high request.

Despite the mismatch between the school system's ambitious request and the county's proposal, Kittleman's tempered budget is $10 million above what local lawmakers approved last year for the school system after a contentious back-and-forth between the school and county officials.

A repeat of that back-and-forth could come this month before the council votes on the budget on May 24.

In a statement released Wednesday night, the school system's leadership cautioned the budget, as proposed, would require "cuts" that will "directly impact the quality of the learning environment," including maintenance, new instructional supplies and instructional programs.

The release did not specify how the budget would impact those areas.

The school system also signaled the budget will force reductions or "cuts" in spending by $32 million for employee health insurance, pensions and other fixed charges; $9 million for operations and building maintenance; $7.8 million for instructional supplies; and $4.8 million in other categories.

In a statement, Howard County Schools Superintendent Renee Foose said the school system was cognizant of budgetary pressures faced by the county and "hopes to collaborate with county leaders to support our most important budget priorities."

For the second year in a row, Kittleman is directly appropriating funding for negotiated salary increases, classroom resources and special education — including a 2 percent salary increase for educators negotiated by the local teacher's union.

"Education continues to be my top priority," Kittleman said Wednesday, noting that two-thirds of the county's general fund money goes toward education, which includes support for libraries, Howard Community College and the school system.

In February, the school board added an additional $3.5 million to Foose's overall state and county budget request, bringing the total request to a record-high $872.4 million — $64 million more than the amount local lawmakers approved last year.

Paul Lemle, president of the Howard County Education Association, applauded Kittleman's appropriations for negotiated salary increases and urged local lawmakers to "restore" funding for a diversity coordinator and support staff in kindergarten classes and media.

The county's proposal remains $2.3 million over state-mandated minimum funding, also known as maintenance of effort. County government must spend as much local money per pupil as they did the year before to qualify for state aid.

Howard County spends the second highest amount per pupil — around $10,138 — in the state after Worcester County.

In an advisory report issued in March, a local county committee noted fulfilling the school system's request would "not only crowd out other agencies, but will eliminate available revenues for other services."

The school system's request is $23 million above estimated revenue growth of $41 million next year.

The committee encouraged the school system to "acknowledge the reality of a limited resource increase and actively look into other options beyond significant funding increases to address service needs."

The Howard County Council will hear testimony from the public on the education budget on Monday at 7 p.m. in the George Howard building in Ellicott City.

Kittleman's operating budget request of $1.6 billion is nearly 6 percent higher than last year's budget. He lauded his administration's ability to avoid tax increases and cut services despite major flooding in Ellicott City last July.

This story will be updated.

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