School officials are counting on a balanced budget and a surplus of more than $400,000 by the end of the school year if two unpredictablefactors work in their favor: the flu and County Council members.

After struggling under an $8 million budget deficit, school budget officer Jack White told school board members yesterday that a request for routine money transfers from the county and capping the amount spent on substitute teachers will enable the system to end up with a clean slate after a financially troubled budget year.

Costs for hiring substitutes have soared within the last few weeks because of a flu outbreak among teachers, increasing the payroll for substitutes from $100,000 to $140,000 in the last pay period, Feb. 20 to March 6.

"It's hard to get a real handle on this," White said after the meeting. "The substitute payroll has fluctuated from $78,000 (in the beginning of the year) to a high of $140,000. You never really know what it will be like. We're trying to do as good of a job as we can."

Doing so has meant abiding by tight controls, including turning down school thermostats and eliminating activity buses for high school students who participate in after-school activities.

The estimated $453,763 surplus is based on limiting the use of substitutes and cooperation from County Council members in obtaining $4.4 million in supplemental money coming from state and federal grant reimbursements. The money comes from 77 grants ranging from Youth Suicide Prevention to Chapter 1 remedial reading and math program. Already, the school system has received $7.3 million.

Normally, the fourth quarter money transfers are requested in June, but board members are anxious to begin the process to head off any problems with new County Council members who might be unfamiliar with the process.

"Years ago, we worked out an arrangement with the council, that as long as this doesn't cost them anything, we could come to them in the fourth quarter to transfer funds to balance the budget," White said. "We're trying to get things in balance."

Balancing the school budget also will mean using "unanticipated revenue" from grants and reimbursements for impact aid for children from military parents and the cost of educating special education students outside the county.

"Because there is a new administration and half of County Council is new, I have been advised and encouraged by the county auditor to bring the grants to them ahead of the transfer to get them acquainted with the grant process," White told board members.

In other business, school board members voted to award a design contract for sound abatement at Glen Burnie Park and Oakwood elementary schools to the architectural and engineering firm Beck, Powell and Parsons.

And after debating aneed for change, board members voted to hire Coopers and Lybrand fora three-year, $87,000 contract. The accounting firm will audit all Board of Education money and review procedures used by the board's internal auditors.

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