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Hickey suggests $2.3 million in budget cuts to compensate for reduced state aid to schools None of his suggestions would affect classrooms


Howard County schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey offered last night a list of nearly $2.3 million in cuts to his proposed operating budget for next year, seeking to make up for an unexpected reduction in state aid.

The suggested reductions -- none of which is expected to affect the classroom -- include approximately $750,000 in savings from the early retirement of 67 school system employees next year, Dr. Hickey said.

His attempt to balance his spending plan came last night during the first of three work sessions on the operating budget scheduled by the school board.

Facing great uncertainty over how much money the county will provide to education next year, the board began a tedious line-by-line examination of Dr. Hickey's proposed budget. By late last night, members had suggested few significant changes to the plan, other than administrative costs.

The $241.9 million operating budget proposed by Dr. Hickey for next year has to be cut by at least $2.3 million before the board submits it to County Executive Charles I. Ecker because the state overestimated how much aid it would provide to Howard schools next year. The state did not correct its estimate until late December, after Dr. Hickey's budget proposal had been completed.

The budget request might need to be cut even more by the board in the spring, depending on how much funding Mr. Ecker and the County Council allocate to education. Mr. Ecker has said that he is not sure he'll be able to increase the education budget by the minimum amount required by state law to pay for new student enrollment -- jeopardizing at least $3 million in local and state funds.

But Dr. Hickey recommended that the board cut just $2.3 million now and wait until May to trim more. By that time Mr. Ecker and the council should have made their final budget decisions.

Dr. Hickey's proposal to eliminate $2.3 million from his budget plan primarily relies upon one-time savings, including:

* Reducing the system's health fund balance by $1 million. A recent actuarial review determined that the school system's health insurance fund contained $1 million more than needed.

* Reducing fuel and energy consumption systemwide for a savings of about $320,000.

* Reducing the workers' compensation fund balance by about $200,000.

* Saving at least $750,000 through the system's early retirement plan. Sixty-seven employees had committed to the plan by Friday's deadline, and an early estimate suggests that $750,000 can be saved by eliminating some positions and hiring younger, less highly paid employees to fill other jobs.

As the board began examining the budget last night, members recommended few substantial changes to Dr. Hickey's proposal.

The most significant recommendation was to save one pupil personnel worker that would be eliminated in the budget. Board members said they thought the positions were valuable toat-risk students.

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