The Howard County school board indicated last night it is likely to support increased spending for textbooks and elementary reading instruction for next year.
As board members pored over the details of Superintendent Michael E. Hickey's proposed 1997-98 operating budget, they expressed approval for plans that include replacing textbooks more frequently and improving reading instruction in the early grades.
Last night's work session focused on the instructional portion of Hickey's $251.9 million proposed operating budget.
Hickey is seeking a 4.9 percent spending increase over the current budget to hire 238 teachers and staff members, buy more library books and employ lunch and recess aides for elementary schools.
The budget plan does not include money for salary increases for school employees because the school system and employee unions are negotiating labor agreements.
During the first two hours of last night's work session, about a dozen teachers sat in the back wearing buttons that said: "Education is valued, not the educators" -- a reminder of their desire for larger pay raises.
Teachers have received small salary increases over the past six years. Last year, the more than 3,000 school employees -- teachers, aides, custodians and other members of the support staff -- averaged barely a 1 percent raise, and more than a quarter ended up with no raise. In discussing the specifics of Hickey's budget plan, board members looked closely at several of the new instructional initiatives for next year, including increasing funds to replace textbooks more frequently and spending $75,000 to improve reading instruction in the early elementary grades.
The money to improve reading instruction would be used to buy phonics-intensive materials for every elementary school, train some first-year teachers in reading instruction, create a one-on-one tutorial program for low-achieving first-graders and to begin using computers to teach reading to some kindergartners at two Howard elementaries.
"I think we all have good hopes about the four-pronged effort in the reading initiative," said Sandra French, board chairwoman. "I think this is going to be a good effort."
Concerning textbooks, Hickey's proposal would increase the amount spent per year by about 50 percent, to $1.4 million, allowing schools to replace textbooks every eight years.
In the last six years, the amount spent per pupil on textbooks has fallen by more than 43 percent, while the price of typical textbooks has increased 75 percent, leaving many schools with outdated and worn textbooks.
Board members made sure that enough money for textbooks would be set aside in every subject area.
An area that was heavily scrutinized was the proposal to boost spending on library books for older schools.
Board members indicated that they approve of spending extra money to buy more materials for schools with fewer library books. But at least one member -- Stephen Bounds -- questioned whether reducing the number of books in new schools might be possible. The board will hold its third and final work session on the operating budget tomorrow night and approve a request to send to County Executive Charles I. Ecker Tuesday morning.
Ecker and the County Council will approve the final county budget -- including the broad limits for education spending -- in late May. The school board will adopt its final version of the 1997-1998 operating budget May 30, within the limits set by the county budget.
Pub Date: 2/19/97