Operating budget request adopted by school board


The Howard County Board of Education adopted yesterday the superintendent's proposed operating budget for the next fiscal year, adding $823,980 in requests.

The budget seeks $442.9 million, 13.4 percent more than this fiscal year. If approved by the County Council, the additional $52.2 million would permit textbook purchases that were deferred last year and add nine part-time teachers for the Gifted and Talented program.

County officials now will consider the needs of the school system given the bleak economic conditions that are straining budgets across the country.

"Every toe and finger is crossed," said Sandra H. French, school board chairman. "We have just said what we really believe is needed."

Board members voted to follow the recommendations of a 2000 salary reclassification study and raise the pay of some middle management and educational support staff members, including secretaries, instructional assistants and data clerks. The one- or two-step grade increases would start in January in the middle of the fiscal year and total $1.3 million.

The board approved two budget changes to address the needs of the county's larger schools.

Courtney Watson sponsored an amendment to add 4.5 Gifted and Talented resource teacher positions for nine elementary schools. These schools had been scheduled to receive an additional part-time position through a reallocation of staff members from other schools.

Although most larger elementary schools have two Gifted and Talented teaching positions, smaller schools need one full-time and one part-time teacher to ensure that the program is fully and uniformly implemented, said Robert O. Glascock, assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction. He and other officials recommended reallocating teachers from schools with more than 1.5 positions to those with one.

"I just didn't think that our larger schools, with 800 students, could get away with 1.5 teachers," Watson said. "You can't expect the larger schools to make do with the same amount of resources."

Glascock said that some staffing changes are possible even if the additional positions are fully funded.

"We have to go back and look at our whole programming model to determine how to allocate the existing staff," he said. The motion "targeted those positions for certain schools - not schools that lost staff."

The board also supported a motion by Virginia W. Charles to place additional assistant principals at four elementary and middle schools with more than 700 students pupils- Patapsco Middle, Patuxent Valley Middle, Hollifield Station Elementary and St. John's Lane Elementary.

"I want to be sure they have the resources available to handle the program," Charles said.

James P. O'Donnell made a motion to allocate $225,000 for Parents as Teachers, an early childhood learning program based at Running Brook Elementary. Board members voted 3-2 in favor. Most of that program's budget now comes from grants, O'Donnell said. "Parent involvement in student achievement is a very critical part of the overall ... plan," O'Donnell said.

By bringing the program under staff control, it could decide "if the program should become part of the way we do things in the future."

Several board members worried about adding a program so late in the budget process

"The public should have a full opportunity to react to any new additions such as this," French said.

The board also voted to increase its legal fees by $50,000, noting the progress of current cases.

Renovation projects at two elementary schools were moved up one year before the board approved the capital budget for the next fiscal year, the 2005-2009 capital improvement program and the 2004-2013 long-range master plan.

School planning officials chose to increase the capacity of future elementary schools to 678 children. As a result, the capacity at planned additions at Manor Woods and Rockburn elementary schools were reduced to 100, and Waverly Elementary School's addition will be reduced to 100 in the next fiscal year.

Additions at Lisbon and Guilford elementary schools were scrapped. That was one reason French suggested moving up scheduled renovations of these schools to the 2004 capital budget, increasing the 2004 budget request to $87.9 million.

The board's budgets are one element in the final decision County Executive James N. Robey must make before meeting with the council next month.

"The big unknown is what's going to happen with state funding," said county budget Director Raymond S. Wacks, noting that a local tax increase is "not inevitable" at this stage.

Wacks said the increase in the school operating budget is higher than the overall $30 million increase in county revenues expected next year.

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

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