The Howard County Board of Education held the first of three public work sessions last night to hash through School Superintendent John R. O'Rourke's proposed operating budget for the coming fiscal year, making little headway into the inches-thick document.
It asks for $440.4 million -- a $49.6 million increase over the current budget -- three-quarters of which would have to come from the county and is unlikely to be fully funded, County Executive James N. Robey indicated at a PTA Council meeting Monday night.
The work session, which largely consisted of board questions and fumbled staff answers, focused on three areas within the pitch: revenues, instruction and midlevel administration.
Outlined revenues show the superintendent asking for increases in every area except "other funding," which accounts for less than 1 percent of the capital sources and includes school system proceeds from summer school tuition, surplus balance carryovers of about $218,000 (mostly leftover state transportation aid) and investment income.
Proceeds from the last section drops by 8 percent, largely because of a predicted $700,000 drop in investment profits.
"That's the single largest factor in the change this year in our other-funds revenue," said David S. White, school system budget officer. "Everybody knows there is record-low interest this year, and that affects our ability to [earn]."
The county share, which comes largely from property and income taxes, would jump $34.4 million if paid -- 11.8 percent -- over this year's portion. While state aid, expected to pay for nearly a quarter of the request, would increase by 16.6 percent, to $108.8 million.
The instruction section of the budget, which accounts for 45 percent of the total and includes wages for most classroom personnel, as well as textbooks and equipment, is one of the most contentious.
Scores of teachers filled the Board of Education meeting room last week during a public hearing, intent on showing their displeasure at what they saw as a low priority placed on educators' and instructional assistants' salaries.
"In the past, I have earned an hourly wage of $11.50 selling liquor part time at a liquor store. My greatest responsibility was locking the door and setting the alarm. It takes teaching assistants in Howard County five years to earn that same hourly wage," Colleen Morris, a veteran Howard teacher, said during the hearing, "and they are responsible to the administrators, teachers, students and parents in this county."
The salary figure used to calculate instructional assistant costs was $16,000.
The budget proposal includes a $16.2 million instruction increase, expected to pay for more than 298 new positions, including 100 teachers (at an average salary of $35,000) and 20 assistants. About $1.6 million will be used to replace textbooks -- a figure that was deferred from last year.
The instruction increase also must take into account a 4 percent salary and step increase for teachers, which alone will run $10.4 million.
The salary increase is not enough to satisfy Howard County Education Association President Joseph R. Staub, however.
Staub noted during Thursday's hearing that administrators will get a 6 percent increase, which was supposed to be in line with the teachers' 4 percent increase plus grade raise, but is not because more than a third of teachers do not qualify for that grade -- or "step" -- increase.
Sandra H. French, school board chairman, also pointed out last night that a proposal to raise summer school teacher wages to $30 an hour was also lacking.
"Baltimore City is having to find cuts, and it's thinking about reducing the summer school rate from $36 an hour to $30," French told Robert Glascock, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "So, your recommendation to increase ours to $30 seems [necessary]."
Funds for midlevel administration -- which includes staff development projects and school office staff salaries -- would jump by just under $1 million, largely because of the transferring of positions previously in other budget areas, and adding seven data clerks to help with numbers crunching. Two assistant principals and a secretary were also added to Reservoir High School, which will include juniors to its student population next year.
The next work session is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 11.