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School spending increase urged


Howard County school superintendent Michael E. Hickey today proposed a $200.8 million spending plan for next year that represents an 11.8 percent increase over the current operating budget.

Under the proposal, Howard County would provide $157.5 million of the budget, an increase of 12.1 percent at a time when the county is projecting a $20 million budget shortfall of its own this year and a tight budget in fiscal 1992. The state would provide most of the other school costs.

Hickey said earlier this month that he would need a 15 percent increase in next year's budget to maintain the current level of services, but said he was able to reduce the increase because enrollment projections are lower and administrators held down other costs.

The plan represents a $21.2 million increase over the current $179.6 million budget. Of that amount, $11.4 million is necessary to accommodate growth without cutting services or programs, Hickey said. The current budget is 15.2 percent higher than last year's.

"That the smallest amount of increase I've requested in the last four years," he said, noting the county's financial crisis. "We made a conscious decision to do that."

Spokeswoman Patti Vierkant added that the system may be able to give back $2 million to the county from the current budget because of cuts it is making.

But Hickey said the current budget could grow by $750,000 when a contract is settled with secretarial and clerical workers, if they get a salary increase in the 5 to 6 percent range. Their contract expires June 1.

The school system, one of the fastest growing in Maryland, expects to have 31,371 students, an increase of about 1,100 over this year, when two new schools open next September.

The budget proposal calls for the addition of 135 positions, including 50 new teachers, and the inclusion of another classroom period in county high schools.

The seventh period high school classes would be a scaled-down version of a proposal to lengthen the school day that the county PTA and some students sought. It would have cost $2.5 million. Hickey's plan would add 14 teachers -- two to each high school except Wilde Lake High -- at a cost of $431,200.

Schools would squeeze in the additional period by shortening lunch for those students who opt to take the additional class, Associate Superintendent James R. McGowan said. Wilde Lake was not included because it operates on a different schedule, he said.

Hickey said he expects 10 to 15 percent of the students to take advantage of those classes.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Jan. 22 and the school board will adopt the plan in February after holding work sessions to determine which changes to make. The budget then goes to the county executive and council.

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