The Anne Arundel County school board decided last night to start an alternative high school for disruptive teen-agers, retain a controversial French immersion pilot program and add 14 elementary school reading specialists for the coming school year.
The changes were part of a $429.4 million operating budget that the board adopted last night. The proposed spending plan is nearly $2 million more than the amount proposed in January by school Superintendent Carol S. Parham.
Board members agreed that they want an alternative high school for 120 students, which would take its first students next February. A site will be chosen this spring.
The board wants to keep a French immersion program at Crofton Elementary School despite some local opposition. The program started in a kindergarten class this year, paid for with $20,000 in contributions -- half raised by parents and half donated by board member Michael Pace.
The program will cost $30,000 next year when first grade is added, but $13,000 from the original contribution probably would be available.
"I'm ecstatic. I think it is a great show of support for their vision," said Audrey Spolarich, who has a child in the program.
The County Council last year opposed the program, and board members were divided about keeping it.
In its budget, the board included $572,000 for 14 elementary reading specialists and $504,000 to train teachers how to prepare students for standardized state tests -- money not proposed by the superintendent.
Dr. Parham will seek a supplemental budget request for Van Bokkelen Elementary School and several other schools with academic problems. The state Department of Education has threatened to take over Van Bokkelen unless it raises its students' academic performance.
Parents and school system employees filled the board's meeting room last night to lobby for programs they want.
Teachers have been seeking an across-the-board pay raise. While Dr. Parham's proposal included no teacher raises for the second consecutive year, the board is negotiating with unions.
At two recent budget hearings, parents asked that the board add teachers, shrink class size, buy more textbooks and provide a guidance counselor and reading specialist for every elementary school.
Dr. Parham's spending plan was 2.4 percent higher than the current budget.
County budget officials cautioned that they did not know if they would accommodate her, but said they certainly would not go higher.
But County Executive John G. Gary does not have the final word. He makes changes and sends a budget package to the County Council, which can restore Board of Education money.