Board unanimously approves $703 million school budget

The Howard County Board of Education unanimously approved Thursday afternoon a $703 million budget for fiscal year 2013.

The vote came hours after the County Council adopted its budget, which totaled $899 million — $482 million of which is allocated for education. Board member Brian Meshkin was absent from the vote.

"You've really stretched (the money) this year," Board Chairwoman Sandra French told members of the school system staff. "I thought we would be in a much more difficult place, given all the doomsday scenarios, all the negative talk. I'm surprised that this budget is as good as it is. I'm relieved and thankful."

The budget — $10 million more than last year's — includes funds to cover the new cost of teacher pensions, shifted down from the state level to local governments by the General Assembly this year.

Funding teachers' retirements will cost the system $9.8 million in the coming year. That number will grow over the four-year phase-in, to $12 million in fiscal year 2014, $15 million the year after that and $18 million in fiscal year 2016.

At its meeting Thursday, the board also approved the 2013 fiscal year capital budget of $77.4 million. It includes funds for a new elementary school and middle school in the Elkridge area and renovations at several county schools, including Atholton High School and Longfellow, Phelps Luck and Gorman Grossing elementary schools.

A capital improvement program, spanning fiscal years 2014-2018 was also approved. That program includes projects that total $522 million. A long-term master plan for capital improvements, which extends until fiscal year 2022, was approved as well. Projects in that plan total $1 billion.

Other sources of revenue in the schools' operating budget include $215.4 million from the state government, $5.4 million from miscellaneous other sources and $370,000 from the federal government.

The vote signals an end to Superintendent Sydney Cousin's last budget process with the school system. Cousin, who has led the schools for eight years, is retiring at the end of June. He thanked the County Council and County Executive Ken Ulman, as well as the board and school system staff, for their hard work.

"Our main reason for being here is to provide classrooms with quality teachers and kids with the resources they need to be successful," he said. "We run the biggest business in the county; we have more buildings, more people on the payroll, more land than any other institution in the county ... I will miss you all."

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