7.4% more is sought for schools; Superintendent wants a budget of nearly $293 million; Plan to be presented tonight; Class size, special education, other needs are targeted


Howard County Schools Superintendent Michael E. Hickey is requesting a 7.4 percent budget increase to reduce class sizes, revamp special education programs and make other improvements to keep up with the system's steady growth.

Released yesterday, Hickey's proposed 1999-2000 operating budget seeks almost $293 million, which is about a $20 million increase over this year's hard-won operating budget.

The proposal -- which will be presented tonight to the school board -- highlights a host of program improvements addressing everything from reading to alternative education to the achievement gap between students of different races and economic backgrounds.

The budget does not contain salary increases for employees. Those are being negotiated through collective bargaining that school officials anticipate ending by late next month or early March.

An across-the-board 1 percent salary increase would cost the school system $1.8 million, according to budget officer David White.

"It will definitely add to the request," said schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan.

Hickey's proposal follows wrangling last year over the amount the school system was to get from the county, which provides about 75 percent of the operating budget. County Council members agreed to restore $3.46 million after then-County Executive Charles I. Ecker cut the school system's original request. But that was less than the $9.2 million school officials had hoped for.

"This last year, I don't think anybody anticipated the level of cuts that Chuck Ecker was going to recommend," Hickey said. "I felt it was our obligation to let the public know what the consequences were going to be."

Hickey said he would be surprised -- if not outraged -- if an increase in the operating budget was not granted. He pointed out that the county's surplus is almost $12 million above earlier estimates.

"We wanted, first of all, to put together an educationally responsible budget," Hickey said. "We also felt very strongly that it [needed to be] be economically feasible so that it would be politically viable."

School officials also noted that some of the new council members made education a priority during their campaigns.

"I think there's good reason to be optimistic this year, given the projections," Caplan said.

In Carroll County, Superintendent William H. Hyde unveiled a $172 million budget yesterday that would do little to reduce class size but would staff a new school, increase clerical staff and give elementary teachers planning time. The budget proposal is an 8 percent increase over current spending.

Reducing class sizes

Hickey's proposed budget includes $3.5 million to reduce class sizes, with 91 new classroom teachers. First- and second-grade classes would be cut to a student-teacher ratio of 19-to-1 in 17 schools. Special education students would be included in enrollment counts that determine staffing in elementary and middle schools, requiring more teachers. Class sizes would be cut in ninth-grade English and math classes.

Another major program improvement calls for $3.3 million to improve special education, which serves about 4,200 students. The money would be used to expand programs for disabled students, add 32 teachers and other assistants, therapists and psychologists and would provide more equipment and materials.

Nearly a third of the $3.3 million would be used to increase instruction time for students with autism, an idea school board members approved over the summer. Autistic toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarteners would receive more frequent and intensive services, summer programs would be expanded and teachers would get more training.

Alternative methods

The budget seeks $715,000 to expand alternative education and services for disruptive students, adding 12 teachers and 12 assistants to seven elementary schools, three middle schools and one high school. Another $750,000 would be used to boost reading, providing 13 extra reading support teachers and four other instructors to expand middle and high school pilot reading programs.

The academic support office would receive an extra $200,000 to help close the much-discussed achievement gap between students of different backgrounds. Some of that money would be used to bring in more "academic mentors," people assigned to a group of students to boost progress in school, Hickey said.

"They're very dedicated people," Hickey said of the mentors. "Most of them have been doing it for several years."

Other requests include:

New teachers, custodians and other staff members for the new Lime Kiln Middle School in Fulton.

Six more health assistants and a part-time specialist to expand a new health services model to five more schools.

Funds to conduct the search for a new superintendent. Hickey retires next year.The operating budget includes school system employee salaries, transportation, supplies and other school costs. It supplements the capital budget, which covers construction, renovation and facility upgrades.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled Feb. 4, and school board work sessions are scheduled Feb. 9, 11 and 16. The school board will approve its budget proposal Feb. 23, and it will be submitted to County Executive James N. Robey on March 15.

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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