Board hears support for budget plan; Parents say schools need funds for computers, teachers; 200 attend hearing; Parham proposal for next school year is 14% increase


Parents and students lobbied county school board members last night for everything from new teachers to new schools during the first of a series of budget hearings on Superintendent Carol S. Parham's proposed $516 million budget.

About 200 people attended the hearing in the auditorium of Old Mill High School in Millersville. Mostly, they supported Parham's spending plan for next school year, which includes a raise for teachers and 180 new teaching positions.

They urged the board to approve programs aimed at increasing the number of computers in classrooms and reducing first-grade classes.

"We are strongly encouraging you to fund Mrs. Parham's technology program," said Mary Helen Winter, president of the Bodkin Elementary School PTA. "Seven years ago, we raised $50,000 to buy computers and build a computer lab. Our computers are now obsolete, and the technician we were promised has never arrived."

Last week, Parham presented her proposed $516 million budget, which includes a request for $3.4 million for 4,000 computers. Fewer than half of the county schools have updated computer labs, and Parham's budget includes the money to start a three-year program to bring schools onto the same network with modernized labs.

Parham's budget plan includes many items that were slashed by former County Executive John G. Gary and is a 14 per- cent increase over the current $454 million budget.

The highlights of Parham's proposal include 24 instructors to handle enrollment increases; 34 teachers to reduce first-grade class sizes from about 28 students to 20 students; a reading teacher for each of the 18 middle schools; five elementary school reading teachers; money to extend the school year at 11 poorly performing schools; a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers; and a pay increase for substitute teachers.

The realities of a tight budget and a looming $134 million maintenance backlog bill were apparent during the meeting as parents pleaded with the board to fix or build schools.

David Cool, chairman of the Harmans Elementary School Improvement Team, told the board that the asbestos problem at that school is so severe that the school could not meet federal removal regulations.

"We have found work orders that are over 20 years old that have not been filled," he said afterward. "It's not so much the floors that we are worried about, but the ceiling and the dust that is spreading all through the school."

There was a plea from a sixth-grader at Overlook Elementary School who said the school needs a full-time guidance counselor.

"Two of my classmates were having a disagreement, but they had to wait for the guidance counselor to come from her other school," said Suzanne Haward. "If we had a full-time guidance counselor, this would not be an issue."

The school board will hold a second hearing at 7 p.m. tonight at school headquarters, 2644 Riva Road in Annapolis. On Feb. 17, the board will vote on a final budget to send to the County Council.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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