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After two public hearings, budget workshops and much discussion, thecounty school board will adopt an operating budget for the next school year tonight.

The school board is expected to present a budget significantly leaner than the proposed $374.8 million budget plan submitted Jan. 22 by school Superintendent Larry L. Lorton.

Much has been made of the fact that Lorton's proposed budget was $41 million more than this year's amended school operating budget of $333 million. Moments after Lorton presented his budget, school boardmembers let it be known that they would be looking to make substantial cuts in the proposal.

Lorton defended his spending plan, sayingit is neither extravagant nor impractical. The increase in the budget does nothing more than sustain the level of services the school system currently provides, Lorton said.

However, Lorton also has saidhe does not believe officials will fully fund his proposed budget.

Lorton's proposal includes:

* $10.8 million for 355.5 additionalpositions, including 118 teachers, to handle a projected increase of2,700 students.

* $38.3 million for special education, $4.5 million above this year's operating budget.

* $43.2 million for retirement, Social Security and pension funds, $7.9 million more than in this year's operating budget.

The budget does not include salary increases or cost-of-living adjustments for employees.

During two budget hearings Feb. 5 and 12, about 400 parents, students and school employees put in their requests.

Some asked for relief from crowded schools, while others asked for physical improvements to aging school buildings suffering from leaking roofs and faulty electrical outlets.Parents also came out in support of permanent substitutes and additional school counselors.

The meeting begins 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Board of Education headquarters on Riva Road in Annapolis.

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