School board seen likely to tweak spending plan


The Howard County school board is expected to make additional tweaks on its proposed operating budget for next year when it votes on it Tuesday morning.

The board has added $260,000 to Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's proposed $493.2 million budget to add golf as a varsity sport and three additional administrative positions -- a budget analyst, an auditor and a Webmaster.

But millions more could be added Tuesday when Cousin presents to the board a proposal for a new teachers' contract. A 3 percent pay raise and step increases would add about $18 million to the budget request.

County teachers and support staff are in the final year of a three-year contract that expires June 30.

Cousin's proposal would add 208 teachers, expand full-day kindergarten to 12 more schools (for a total of 19) and include $2.5 million to replace textbooks, a need that was pushed back in recent years.

After the board's vote, the budget will be sent to County Executive James N. Robey, who wants to keep the school budget from growing more than 7 percent a year. This year's budget is $461 million. Robey is scheduled to release his budget proposal to the County Council in mid-April.

Depending on how much money the school system receives from the county, the school board will revisit its budget in May. "Sydney did a good job," said Courtney Watson, the school board chairman. "Our expectation is that we may have to reduce the budget based on the amount of funding available."

Schools go all-out to help tsunami victims

Howard County students have taken the desperate needs of tsunami victims in Southeast Asia to heart.

From holding bake sales to selling wristbands to sponsoring roller-skating nights, students have raised $109,923, according to fund-raising results reported by 53 of the county's 69 schools. Relief activities are continuing at schools across the county.

"This speaks volumes about the character of our students and about the values we are installing in our young people," said Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin.

Northfield Elementary School in Ellicott City raised the most -- $15,895 -- by holding a math-a-thon.

Pupils at Talbott Springs Elementary School in Columbia collected $1,000 and sent more than 210 pounds of personal-hygiene projects to tsunami victims.

Business partners at Bryant Woods, Clemens Crossing and Waverly elementaries and River Hill High School agreed to match the amounts raised by the schools.

Other schools, including Clarksville Middle and Bellows Spring Elementary, donated water and sanitary kits, as well as money.

Finally, a snow day -- then a second

Howard County students finally got their first snow day Thursday, and another one Friday.

Snowstorms here and there this winter weren't enough even for a delayed opening at county schools.

But a forecast of 4 to 6 inches of snow falling early Thursday into the evening prompted all Baltimore area school systems to cancel school.

Howard Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin made the call about 4:45 a.m. Thursday after consulting school transportation officials and the weather report.

"The decision is based on student safety," Cousin said.

Either way, though, Cousin gets calls from parents who complain when school is not canceled or is opened when there is inclement weather.

On Friday, other local systems also closed school.

In the past two school years, the school system had its first snow day Dec. 5. This year's first snow day is the latest one in five years, according to figures kept by school officials.

Nine makeup days have been built in to the 2004-2005 school calendar, meaning the last day of school -- for now -- is June 15.

The school board also got a break when it canceled its Thursday meeting. It has been rescheduled for Tuesday morning after its vote on the budget for next year.

Oakland Mills senior is going to Germany

Jessica Rennenkampf, a senior at Oakland Mills High School, is one of seven high school students in the United States and Canada selected for an all expenses-paid cultural exchange program to Germany.

Jessica, 17, will spend three weeks in a city in Germany, attending language classes, meeting German teenagers and exploring its culture through a program sponsored by the Goethe-Institut in New York. She hopes to be assigned to Berlin.

"The chance to see Germany and catch up with my heritage is pretty cool," said Jessica, whose father's family is from Germany. "I am so thrilled."

The Goethe-Institut, which promotes German culture, has held a contest to find students for the exchange program since 1991. The organization selected seven schools from across the United States and Canada, which in turn chose the winning students.

Bob Evarts, who teaches German and Spanish at Oakland Mills, said Jessica's essay on why she wanted to go to Germany and why she would be a good ambassador for Oakland Mills impressed a panel of teachers who acted as judges.

Jessica is taking Spanish 3 and French 5-AP, and she said she is interested in pursuing foreign languages, including German, in college.

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