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Schools budget explored


At a hearing last night on the Howard County school system's proposed budget, parents and educators urged the school board to keep intact the current student-teacher ratio in elementary schools.

"We feel that it is imperative that the class-size ratio of 25-to-1 be maintained for staffing at the elementary level," said Andrew Barshinger, president of the Howard County Association of Elementary School Administrators. "If you allow this ratio to rise . . . we assure you that it will have a serious negative impact on instruction."

Another concern was special education.

Frank Eastham, program coordinator for the Howard County Extension Program at Taylor Manor Hospital, asked for funding for a library, textbooks, two computers and printers for the special education program.

"I believe that these requests are reasonable," he said. "They are essential in order for us to provide a quality academically oriented program which will ensure student success upon their return to their home school."

Last month, Howard County Superintendent Michael E. Hickey proposed a $213.6 million operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, a 4.3 percent increase in spending.

Dr. Hickey proposed a $4.1 million increase in instructional spending to expand the pool of teachers for overcrowded schools and schools with special needs; about $1 million for new equipment at aging schools; and a $1.5 million increase in special education funding to add 61 new positions to handle increased enrollment and to pay the costs of including special education students in regular classrooms.

The five-member school board will vote on the spending plan Feb. 22 after three public work sessions Tuesday, Feb. 15 and 17.

Last night's hearing at the Department of Education in Ellicott City, attended by about 50 people, was for public comment.

Reading from a lengthy statement, six members of the PTA Council said all ninth-graders may not be able to complete the health curriculum because there aren't enough health teachers at the county's eight high schools. They also questioned the addition of administrative personnel -- two school construction specialists, an accountant and a human resources secretary -- and said those could be better spent on students.

"We are cautiously optimistic that fiscal year 1995 will be the year when Howard County schools can finally stop going backward and start moving forward again," said Jan Chastant of the PTA Council.

Hope Patton, PTA president at Thunder Hill Elementary, said her school needs to replace outdated equipment.

Rosemary E. S. Mortimer, chair of the School Health Council, asked for continued health education funding, particularly because of the growing number of AIDS and drug abuse cases in the country. She noted that a survey this week found an increased rate in teen-age drug use in America.

"The School Health Council reminds you that no educator can teach a child who is ill. It is not possible," she said.

Nancy Weber, chair of the Howard County Council for Children and Youth, told the board that the schools need to do more to prevent child abuse and supported a proposal to spend an additional $16,470 to train staff members to spot child abuse.

She said 670 child physical and sexual abuse and neglect cases were investigated by county's Department of Social Services in 1993.

"It is important to note that two-thirds of these reports were made by school system personnel," she said. "Statistically, we know that reported cases represent only a fraction of the incidents of child abuse and neglect which occurs in our community daily."

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