School budget includes more all-day kindergarten

Howard County schools Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin submitted his first budget to the school board last night - a request that would bring all-day kindergarten to a dozen more schools and open a new high school, yet appears leaner than last year's proposal by his predecessor.

The $493.2 million spending plan is 6.9 percent, or $32 million, higher than the budget for the current school year - though it does not include step or cost-of-living pay raises for teachers, which will boost the costs. Cousin said contract talks are under way.


A 3 percent pay raise and step increases, for example, would add about $18 million to the request, boosting the increase to 10 percent.

Still, former Superintendent John R. O'Rourke asked for a 14 percent increase one year ago - a package that included a previously agreed on 6 percent pay raise. O'Rourke's request was reduced to a 9.5 percent increase.


"It's a much more realistic budget than we got last year," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman. "We're still going to have to wait and see what the [county] finances are like."

Board member Joshua Kaufman said, "It's exactly what I expected to see" - unlike last year, when O'Rourke excluded a top board priority of all-day kindergarten.

Cousin said his request seeks to maintain and strengthen classroom education, restore several cuts made during recession years and add 208 teachers.

"You won't see any spectacular new initiatives in this budget," Cousin said, adding that he is determined to preserve basic items that have been cut in the past several years - such as $2.5 million for textbooks and $1 million for maintenance.

"This puts us back on an eight-year [textbook] replacement cycle," Cousin said. Delaying replacement of science texts, for example, is "problematic," he said. "We cannot continue to make those type of deferrals and still continue to be an exceptional school system."

Cousin said his budget theme is to keep Howard's school system operating at an "exceptional" level, which means attracting and keeping top staff, maintaining high student test scores and continuing to close the achievement gap among ethnic and racial groups.

To do that, he said, the system needs 25.5 more teachers for the new all-day kindergarten programs, 31 more for high schools, including the new Marriotts Ridge High due to open in August, 12 more foreign-language teachers to give more students access to classes and 59 more special education teachers.

In addition, large and crowded schools would get extra reading and media specialists and an added assistant principal, said Sandra J. Erickson, chief academic and administrative officer. The budget also includes funds for an extra math support teacher for elementary schools, part-time math specialists at eight middle schools and four teachers to expand intensive English and math proficiency programs, now at Hammond and Oakland Mills high schools, to Wilde Lake and Long Reach highs.


Of the 260 positions the budget would create, 27 are for administration - mostly assigned to schools - and 28 are for maintenance and plant operations. Central administration is 1.6 percent of the budget.

Cousin said the school system is trying to balance increased costs from enrollment and program growth, and an 18 percent increase in fixed costs for such things as health insurance, utilities and transportation, against County Executive James N. Robey's goal of keeping the school budget from growing more than 7 percent a year.

"I think we looked at the financial realities of the county. It is fiscally responsible and responsive to the needs of the school system," Cousin said.

State funding is expected to increase by $15.4 million next fiscal year, and Cousin is asking for $16 million more from the county. By comparison, fixed costs are expected to rise $13 million.

The expansion of all-day kindergarten from seven to 19 schools next year will cost $2.3 million more, and the schools must begin the first of several annual $726,000 payments for a sophisticated new payroll and human resources computer system. The state requires all-day kindergarten in all 37 county elementary schools by 2007.

Cousin said that of the 6.9 percent in additional funding he is requesting, 4.8 percent is county money. About 71 percent of the school system's funding for the 49,000-student system comes from the county, while 28 percent is from the state. The rest is federal money and grants. About 80 percent of school spending is for salaries and benefits for 7,000 employees, Cousin said.


Of the total $493.1 million requested, $350 million would come from the county and $137 million from the state, with the rest from grants and federal funds. Cousin, who replaced O'Rourke last year, said contract talks with employee unions should be complete in time to include increased pay costs in the board's final budget.

A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Jan. 25 at school board headquarters, and the board will hold public work sessions Feb. 8, 15, 17 and 22. The board is to vote on the budget March 1. It will then be sent to Robey, who reveals his budget proposal to the County Council in mid-April.