11% boost in school budget OK'd; Board says council to have final say on $302.8 million plan; 'There are no sacred cows'; Proposal seeks across-the-board employee raises


Howard County school board members approved yesterday an operating budget for next year that is an 11 percent increase over this year's budget, and would require $9 million more from the county than the superintendent requested.

The proposed budget, $302.8 million, seeks across-the-board employee raises, including an extra $7.1 million for instructional salaries. However, schools spokeswoman Patti Caplan said that agreements with the various unions were still tentative as of Tuesday.

Perhaps foreshadowing a struggle with the County Council over funding, board members stressed that the budget is subject to change in May. That's when the county -- which funds about 75 percent of the budget -- decides how much money it will give the school system. School officials must then make adjustments depending on that funding.

"There are no sacred cows," said board Chairwoman Karen B. Campbell. "This is a whole school system budget. We will do our level best to advocate for our budget. We will come back and try to be as fair as possible."

County Executive James N. Robey has said that the system probably won't get as much of an increase as school officials seek. While Raymond S. Wacks, the county budget director, said he could not predict what Robey will decide, he conceded that the county will "not be able to fund all the requests we're receiving."

"We've got some tough choices to make."

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey expressed hope yesterday that the County Council would do its best to "be responsive" to the school district's needs.

"I've assured Jim Robey that we're going to work together on this and try to make the most of it, and I know he's going to do the best he can," Hickey said. "Whether that will result in full funding or not, I don't know."

Much of the increase is aimed at reducing class sizes in some schools, updating special education programs and making other improvements to keep pace with the school system's growth -- needs that Hickey described as critical.

"Those have to be funded," Hickey said of the special education and class size proposals.

Glendening statement

In fact, school officials have proposed expanding the latter, perhaps adding seven more elementaries to the list of 17 elementary schools where student-teacher ratios eventually would be reduced to 19-to-1. The proposal also calls for cutting class sizes in ninth-grade math and English classes.

School officials are optimistic about Gov. Parris N. Glendening's recent statement that the county could get $1 million from the state for its class reduction efforts.

"If we do get the million dollars from the governor, I anticipate we will just use that to offset" the contribution from the county, Hickey said. "I told Jim Robey that we had some other contingencies that we were hoping for, and that was one of them."

The elementary school reduction would take place at the county's nine focus schools -- schools that receive extra resources because of lower academic performance -- and eight others with relatively high numbers of low-income students. Associate Superintendent Sandra J. Erickson said the expansion would include other schools with the next-highest number of students participating in free and reduced-price lunch programs.

"Every school could use it," Hickey said.

Appeal to audience

Board Vice Chairman Stephen C. Bounds also appealed to the audience of staff and other persons at yesterday's meeting to lobby for the special education plan. The program would expand programs for disabled students, hire more teachers, therapists, psychologists and other assistants and provide additional equipment and materials for the special education department.

"I'm thrilled with the plan," Bounds said. "I believe this is the right way for us to go. Keep advocating to the folks with the dollars."

The board's version of the operating budget is based on Hickey's request, which was submitted last month. That request sought almost $293 million, a 7.4 percent increase over this year's operating budget. The budget approved by the school board yesterday seeks over $9 million more, some of which would come from the state.

Committee concerns

Responding to concerns from members of the Interscholastic Athletic Advisory Committee, the school board added $85,840 to the budget for certified health trainers for high school student athletes. At a recent budget hearing, several IAAC members said the county's 6,600 student athletes have no medical coverage in case of injury, making a trainers' assistance crucial.

The school system now has two trainers who rotate among the schools on a part-time basis. Don Disney, county coordinator of athletics, said that Howard County and Baltimore are the only school districts in the Baltimore region that don't provide such trainers for their high school programs.

"This is not a classroom issue, but it is a safety issue," Campbell said. "I really think it's an important addition to our athletic interscholastic program. I think it's an appropriate thing to add to our budget if we can get the funding for all the classroom efforts."

Board member Sandra H. French voted against fully funding the measure, saying she would rather phase it in and "see how it works."

Other changes made by the board included:

Adding nine more positions to the staffing pool -- positions set aside to accommodate school growth after the beginning of the school year -- at a cost of $270,000.

"Over the years, the pool has gotten depleted early on because we've started to use it for the focus schools," Caplan explained.

Spending $70,000 more on contracted labor for special education, which includes temporary workers who work with students with moderate to severe disabilities.

Adding a computer maintenance worker and a truck for the school system's plant.

"I'm realistic enough to know that the county is not going to be able to fully fund [the budget]," Hickey said. "When Jim Robey and the County Council tell us 'Here's the best we can do,' and if I feel that they've truly done their best to be responsive to our needs I'll be responsive to that."

The school board also approved additions to the capital budget request, which now totals about $39.7 million. The additions include $2.5 million for sewer improvements at Glenelg High School and a $500,000 increase in renovation costs at other schools.

Hickey's original capital budget request was $35.48 million.

Pub Date: 2/24/99

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