School board member George Lisby plans to recommend, at tomorrow's school board meeting, cutting 26.5 elementary school teacher positionsrequested in the school superintendent's proposed 1991-1992 operating budget.
"I know it's going to be controversial, but you have to measure projected revenue sources against what you can hire," said Lisby. "I just don't see where we can achieve that increase in light ofthe economy."
Last month, the board announced that reducing class sizes in elementary schools would be their top budget priority for next school year -- no matter what had to be trimmed from the budget to hire the needed teachers.
Harford School Superintendent Ray R. Keech then saidthe board's financial priority for the next school year would be hiring more elementary school teachers. In his proposed budget for next school year he has requested 98.5 new teaching positions aimed at reducing class sizes and accommodating expected enrollment growth.
Last week, acknowledging that available money probably can't match the rhetoric, Keech said, "It boils down to a matter of, if there's not enough money, how do you get to a bottom line?"
In January, Keech said hiring enough teachers to accommodate growth was essential. "For two years in a row, we've taken in an enormous amount of students with almost no new additional staff. We just can't do it three years in a row," he said.
At Southampton Middle School, for example, 39 students pack one sixth-grade class. And the situation may get worse in the fall, when an estimated 1,602 new students walk into elementary school classrooms, say school administrators.
Keech's budget request for 98.5 new elementary school teachers included six art teachers, 4.5 guidance teacher positions and eight teachers for programs for "at-risk" students.
But Thursday, faced with the fact that the county won't be able to afford extra spending this year, Keech said, "I have made class sizes a priority in my recommendations. But I think theboard members are making a sincere effort to try to bring the budgetdown to a smaller amount, and I respect their efforts to do that. I have no quarrel with it."
Lisby didn't offer a particular reason for how he arrived at his recommendation to cut 26.5 positions. "To methat seems reasonable," he said.
At an average salary of about $32,000 for each new teacher, Lisby's proposal would cut approximately $840,000 from the 1991-1992 budget.
"There's no question we have to hire some teachers, but it's a question of how many of them," Lisbysaid. "I think you could always make an argument that you need more teachers, no matter how many you employ. I think we have to live in aworld of reality and realize that other parts of government also need funding."
Lisby said he's "positive the board will respond" favorably to his suggestion.
Added Lisby, "The impact of cutting thesepositions would not be as great as if we had to release staff. It seems to me we haven't been able to purchase equipment in recent years,and it's time to look at other areas that need attention. We can't get it all."
Board member Percy Williams agreed that new teaching positions may have to be reduced in the proposed budget.
"The statelaw says that the superintendent takes the initiative in forming thebudget, and that's what he's done," Williams said.
"The board then forms the board's budget. That's what we're doing, but we aren't inany way going to jeopardize a good school system."
So far, the school board has made about $700,000 in cuts in Keech's proposed $153 million operating budget. Those cuts include $328,500 saved by deciding to contract four new school buses to private operators. Keech had proposed contracting for eight buses.
Keech's proposed 1991-1992 budget represents a 21 percent increase over the 1990-1991 school operating budget.
The board plans to adopt a proposed budget at tomorrow's regular meeting. It must submit a budget to the county executive by Feb. 18.