The director of Carroll County school system's special education department was nearly speechless when she learned school board members had adopted a $304 million proposed operating budget that includes hiring about two dozen special education resource teachers.
"I've never been in a position where I've been offered additional positions," said Stephany Savar, supervisor of special education. "It's like Christmas."
Savar ticked off several initiatives she would pursue if the positions survive the budgeting process. School officials are expected to approve a final budget by early summer after they find out how much money they will get from the state and county. Fiscal 2007 begins July 1.
Savar speculated that with the additional teaching positions, she could launch initiatives to bolster reading and math interventions and to decrease paperwork demands on teachers.
"I'm very cognizant of the workload issue," she said. "I would look at ways to decrease paper workload [because] the more you decrease that, the more our teachers can devote to instruction."
She also said she would increase specialized reading interventions based on progress she has seen.
"With the changes and innovations we've made with specialized reading interventions, we're seeing a decreasing trend in the number of students who are being identified as having a specific learning disability in the area of reading," she said.
Although the proposed operating budget that the five-member school board unanimously approved Thursday night is about $6.9 million more than the district will likely receive, board members said they felt compelled to aim high.
"This is our opportunity to paint a complete picture of the needs of the school system," said board member C. Scott Stone.
Board President Thomas G. Hiltz added, "Some people say it's a wish list, but it's our opportunity to put reasonable stakes in the ground ... for what we think is important."
In the end, board members added about $3.6 million to Superintendent Charles I. Ecker's original request.
The spending plan includes $1.6 million to hire 22 special education resource teachers, about $400,000 to hire five reading intervention specialists and provide professional development, and about $560,000 to add guidance counselors to reduce student-to-counselor ratios across the system.
Hiltz proposed adding five reading intervention specialists at the elementary school level to stem what he called a "staggering" problem.
"About 20 percent of our children systemwide are not reading on grade level," he said. "That's one in five. That translates to 1,500 to 2,000 kids that aren't reading where we want them to be. They're struggling."
Hiltz said these instructors would be "highly specialized" professionals capable of diagnosing children's needs and intervening with expertise.
"It's not just enough to know a student isn't reading on grade level," Hiltz said. "We need to know why and how to help them.
Hiltz said he eventually would like to see a reading intervention specialist in each elementary school.
"Research shows that if intervention waits until after third grade, 75 percent of these students will continue to struggle through high school," he said.
The second-most-expensive item that board members added to Ecker's request was to hire three half-time and seven full-time guidance counselors - one for each high school - to help reduce student-to-counselor ratios.
"I'm delighted the board is very supportive of guidance counseling," said Judy Klinger, the system's guidance supervisor. "For the most part, the job description is the same from level to level, but the duties are different at the high school level."
Klinger said she also would like to add guidance counselors at the elementary and middle school levels because she has counselors with caseloads of more than 700 students.
The American Counseling Association recommends 250 students per counselor, she said. At the budget meeting, school officials said the county's average caseload is about 340 students per counselor.
At North Carroll High, the average caseload is 391 students per counselor, according to school officials. Adding a half-time counselor would reduce the average to 357, they said. The board's proposal would add one full-time counselor and a half-time counselor to North Carroll.
School board members also recommended beginning to address class-size concerns by hiring five teachers for kindergarten through second grade.
School board members' additions
$1.6 million to hire 22 special education resource teachers
$561,284 to hire three half-time and seven full-time guidance counselors
$403,285 to hire five reading intervention specialists and provide professional development
$290,530 to hire five teachers for kindergarten through second grade
$378,285 to hire five math resource teachers
$161,522 to hire two school psychologists
$116,212 to hire two behavioral specialists
Key points from Ecker's request
$8 million for second year of step increases and a 3 percent pay raise for union-represented employees
$6 million to create 142 staff positions, including teachers and instructional assistants
$2.5 million for second phase of full-day kindergarten expansion
$1.1 million for rising fuel costs for gas, electricity and bus transportation
$400,000 to replace 21st Century Community Learning Center grants that are set to expire this year
$5 across-the-board daily rate increase for substitute teachers, bumping pay rate to $78 a day for non-degree substitutes and to $105 for substitutes with teaching certificates
[Source: Carroll County public schools]