Technology cuts made in schools' budget Board avoids charging students fee for sports, activities


Responding to the Howard County Council's school budget allocation, the school board announced yesterday that the technology magnet program will not expand to a third campus and that school Internet improvements will be delayed.

The board avoided taking some of the more drastic steps it had considered when County Executive Charles I. Ecker first proposed a budget containing $9.2 million less than the board had requested.

Students will not have to pay fees to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities, textbooks will be replaced after eight years, and athletic equipment will be upgraded.

The decisions, which came at the close of a four-hour school board work session, were in response to Tuesday's council decision to restore $3.5 million to Ecker's proposal. The total spending plan of $195.6 million still falls $5.7 million short of the budget school officials had requested.

"I don't consider this a victory when you hold onto less than what you had hoped for at the bottom line," Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said after the session. "I am grateful for the movement [the council] did show."

Also Tuesday, the Republican-controlled council gave the school system an additional $500,000 in its capital budget to replace obsolete computers.

Yesterday's meeting was the final public discussion by school officials of funding allocations before the school board votes on the budget May 29. Tuesday, the County Council will set the final operating and capital budget figures for all county departments.

Transportation savings

The largest change in the schools' operating budget that was discussed yesterday was $1.13 million deleted from the transportation department, cuts found by figuring in current low fuel prices and revising school schedules to squeeze more bus trips out of each vehicle, said Robert Lazarewicz, executive director of operations.

Also removed from the budget were:

$850,000 for media and other supplies for two new middle schools; some of those funds were found in another area of the budget.

$340,000 for Internet upgrades that would have increased the number of students who could simultaneously use the World Wide Web from 300 to about 1,000; and $50,000 to upgrade computer wiring for elementary schools.

$100,000 by deferring expansion of the technology magnet program to Columbia's Oakland Mills High School; 31 students enrolled in the program at Oakland Mills and Howard high schools will instead be transported to Long Reach High.

$62,000 for two technology magnet instructors who would have been at Oakland Mills.

$60,000 for stipends and workshop fees to train new teachers.

$50,000 for an automated report card system.

Board members also voted to raise $61,090 by increasing by 10 percent fees charged to community groups for using school facilities outside of school hours.

School board Chairman Stephen C. Bounds said he was reluctant to raise the fees but that "when we don't get full funding of the budget, we're not in a position to subsidize community organizations."

Yesterday's session was dominated by discussion of how to save $410,000 in the budget to avoid charging students $40 to play sports and $20 to participate in such activities as band, drama and speech. Those figures reflected school estimates of 6,300 students participating in sports and 8,097 participating in extracurricular activities.

Early in the session, some board members appeared willing to support charging high school students in sports or other activities a flat fee to avoid placing an undue burden on those involved in multiple activities.

As the session wore on, board members focused on a variety of proposed cuts -- including additional school psychologists, maintenance vehicles and graphing calculators -- to avoid the activities fees.

"I'm really not happy with the [athletic and extracurricular] fees," said Jane B. Schuchardt, a board member. "I don't want to lose these kids because they have to pay."

Fees avoided

In the end, the board squeezed enough money from the budget -- including $83,000 from renegotiated health care fees -- to avoid implementing the student fees.

Discussing the option of making middle school students pay for advanced calculators necessary for algebra, board member Sandra H. French said, "What we're doing is we're passing the costs of these [calculators] back onto the parents of students." The option was rejected.

Referring to budget reductions approved by the council on a 3-2 vote, board member Karen B. Campbell said, "It is the will of the people."

French said, "No, it's the will of three people."

Pub Date: 5/21/98

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