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School board OKs reduced funds request


The Howard County school board approved yesterday many of the reductions Superintendent John R. O'Rourke suggested for next school year's operating budget request, in order to accommodate a disappointing shortfall in state and county money.

Some of the cuts included 14 new elementary school assistant positions that would have cost the district more than $200,000. Board members also had hoped to hire an additional manager and supervisor for the assessment office, but cut those positions as well, for a savings of $115,500.

Altogether, the board eliminated $6.29 million from its fiscal year 2002 operating budget, reducing the total to $368.8 million.

Despite the cuts, there was surprisingly little rancor this budget season. O'Rourke and County Executive James N. Robey agreed this year to work cooperatively and congenially.

"It's been relatively painless; it's been a good process," board member Sandra H. French said at yesterday's meeting. "Thank you, Mr. O'Rourke."

The school board, however, did restore $43,000 to the budget to bring five high school data clerks up to full-time status.

School office workers and students have complained recently that registrars and clerks have too much work to do, especially in the largest high schools.

"The data clerks are absolutely overworked," said board member Virginia Charles. "The amount of work we're asking them to do is not within the half-day we've allotted for them, and we need to do something about it."

The clerks would most likely be employed at Long Reach, Wilde Lake, Mount Hebron, River Hill and Howard high schools, board members said.

Many of the reduced items in the latest version of the budget are not being cut, however. Instead, they are being prepaid out of surplus from this year's budget, or are being deferred.

For example, $100,000 in school supplies for new schools is being deferred, as is $62,000 in athletic supplies for new schools.

The Board of Education also approved the final version of the capital budget yesterday, adding the $5 million in state school construction aid that was unexpectedly announced last week.

That $5 million is a pleasant "cushion," said Associate Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin, that will allow the district to more easily complete additions, renovations and other building projects.

"I'm just glad to see that this [maintenance] is continuing," French said, noting the $180,000 for playground equipment repair and replacement and $1.5 million to keep the schools' technology up to date. "I think there's a lot of good news in here that we're not really talking about."

The County Council is expected to approve the new budget requests Wednesday. The school board is scheduled to approve the final version of the budget May 29.

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