Rejecting a last-minute appeal from the county PTA council to restore some budget cuts, the school board approved a $188.4 million operating budget request Tuesday with a county share within $550,000 of thesupport pledged by County Executive Charles I. Ecker.
Ecker told school officials in January he could provide just $140.5 million, this year's level of support, plus $5.2 million to keep county support from dropping as enrollment rises. The board will ask the county for $146.2 million.
Board members reacted sharply to a letter from the PTA Council of Howard County urging them to restore about $2 million worth of cutsand to re-evaluate staff salaries, including teacher salaries.
"We said, 'If you're going to hold the line on teacher salaries, you should hold the line on the education of children. Don't protect one atthe expense of the other,' " PTA Council President Rosemary E.S. Mortimer said Tuesday.
The school board lacks the legal right to reopen the teacher contract at this time, said Board Chairman Deborah D. Kendig. Kendig said that after she read an editorial in The Sun Friday criticizing the Howard and Montgomery County school boards for failing to cut teacher salaries, "I spent the rest of the afternoon in a fury. I got my vacuum (cleaner) pushed around real fast."
Kendig said she was more upset by the editorial than by the council letter, although she felt that if the budget must be cut, the school board is closer to the situation and has a better idea of where to cut than the County Council does.
"We don't disagree with that," Mortimer said. She said PTA representatives hoped the board would restore $2 million of trims made in a second round of cuts after Superintendent Michael E. Hickey cut $10.3 million from his original $200.8 million budget proposal.
If the council then failed to provide enough money to cover the budget request, the school board would have to figure out what to cut, Mortimer said.
State law governing teacher contracts provides that if the county government does not allocate enough money to operate the schools and cover the negotiated salary increase -- inHoward's case, 6 percent for the next school year -- the local boardcan implement a salary schedule based on what it can afford.
The board can ask teachers to renegotiate at any time -- but the contracthas a clause that says it can be reopened only by mutual agreement.
The board's budget request reflects 60 staff position cuts, about half of them "teacher pool" jobs that would have been filled as needs developed after the school year began. Other cuts will halve the number of teachers in the middle school gifted and talented program and eliminate supervisory positions in language arts, the gifted and talented program, guidance and media services.
Busing for private schoolstudents remains in the budget, but will be financed only at the levels allocated for public school students, which may mean longer walksto the bus stop for some private school students.
Among items requested by county residents that are absent from the budget: $450,000 that would have been used to hire additional teachers for a seven-period day in high schools; $60,000 for new playground equipment at older schools; and $50,000 cut from the athletic equipment budget in 1989-1990 with the promise it would be restored this year.
The budget,by category:
* Administration -- $8.2 million, cut by $1.6 million from Hickey's proposal. Major cuts: 17.5 staff positions; elimination of allowance for inflation. The inflation allowance at 5 percent would have been $982,000; reduced to 3 percent, it would have been $589,000.
* Instruction -- $95 million, cut by $2.8 million from Hickey's proposed budget. Major cuts: 42.5 positions, including reductionof the gifted and talented middle school program from 24 to 12 teachers, dropping advanced science and social studies classes in middle schools; reduction of the "teacher pool" from 40 to 10; reduction of extracurricular pay for teachers to conduct after-school programs in orchestra and dance, although after-school math programs will be continued. Textbooks, supplies and materials and additional equipment werecut by $3 million, to $8.2 million.
* Health services -- $1.2 million, cut by $19,540 from Hickey's proposal.
* Transportation -- $12.4 million, cut by $444,160. Major cuts: $275,000 in reduced gasoline allocation, based on recent trend of falling gasoline prices.
*Operation of plant -- $15.3 million, cut by $704,925 from Hickey's proposal. Major cuts: eliminated request for 7.5 additional custodians. Sydney L. Cousin, associate superintendent for finance and operations, said he may take the positions out of the "floater" custodian pool where employees are detailed to specific jobs or fill in for custodians who are ill or on leave.
* Maintenance of plant -- $6.3 million, cut by $1.5 million. Major cuts: postpone schools scheduled for painting under maintenance schedule that calls for exterior repaintingevery seven years, interior repainting every six years; eliminate replacement of carpet; cut most school requests for building repairs; care of grounds cut by $208,000 to $100,000, which will affect blacktop, fences and paving.
* Fixed charges -- $20.6 million, cut by $828,000. Major cuts: recalculating cost of insurance increase, reducingit by 5 percent.
* Community services -- $1.7 million, cut by $559,000. Major cuts: care of grounds, custodial overtime and inflation allowance.
The board made only minor cuts in capital outlay, special education and pupil personnel.