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School board set to expand spending list Gary already offering $3.5 million less than Parham seeks; Salary 'most important'; Reading specialists, additional teachers, materials proposed


The $3.5 million budget gap between what the schools superintendent wants and what the county executive is willing to spend could nearly quadruple Wednesday when the school board adds its wish list to the total.

Proposals by the eight board members, which focus on the county's 76 elementary schools, call for:

* Placing a reading specialist and a guidance counselor in every school.

* Standardized testing in every grade.

* Hiring more teachers and buying more instructional materials.

* Employee raises that total $6 million.

Superintendent Carol S. Parham has proposed a $427.5 million operating budget for 1996-1997 -- 2.4 percent more than the current one -- $288.3 million of it from county revenue. That is roughly $3.5 million more than County Executive John G. Gary has said he wants to spend on schools.

"I can't say right now that we can accommodate even her budget proposal," John R. Hammond, the county's financial officer, said after praising Dr. Parham's recommendations. "If the board adds on to it, I don't see how we can accommodate them."

Some school board members said the budget proposal they give the county executive should be aggressive and should respond what they consider danger signals. The board's proposal totals $10 million.

"Our elementary schools are in trouble," said board member Thomas R. Twombly.

"The board understands that we have elementary school problems."

Reading scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) test, given to third- and fifth-graders, dropped last year. The county fell from sixth to ninth place in the state in overall school performance.

And the Department of Education is demanding an overhaul of Van Bokkelen Elementary School, which became the first suburban school in Maryland threatened with state takeover after its mediocre test scores plummeted.

Providing a full-time reading resource teacher for each school would require hiring 20 people. The superintendent also wants 45 more classroom teachers to keep up with increasing enrollment and four more for sixth-graders in the Meade and North County feeder system.

"Certainly, we need to look at the number of teachers we are adding, materials of instruction, the resource teachers, guidance counselors to make sure we are not losing ground," said board President Joseph H. Foster. "Reading is a fundamental part of MSPAP. We need to look at providing more reading resource teachers."

But board member Thomas Florestano said that not every school needs a reading specialist or a full-time guidance counselor. Instead, he wants to give employees a 2 percent across-the-board pay raise, which would add $6 million to the budget.

"The most important thing is salary," he said. "The money ought to be loaded into the budget above and beyond what we have got in there."

Dr. Parham's proposal did not include a raise for employees, who did not receive increases this year. Contract negotiations are under way with unions.

Board members agree on the need for an alternative high school for disruptive teen-agers, but disagree on the timetable.

"We need to be very careful," said Nicole St. Pierre, the student member of the board. "It's a very big project, and we should be careful not to rush into it."

The superintendent recommended opening the alternative school next February, for $400,000. Delaying the opening until September 1997 would give administrators more planning time and push it out of the coming year's budget.

The board is scheduled to adopt a budget proposal at its 7:30 p.m. meeting Wednesday at the Board of Education building on Riva Road in Annapolis.

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