Cousin offers spending plan

The Baltimore Sun

Teacher salaries and benefits resulting from union negotiations contributed to the bulk of the $43.8 million increase to Howard County Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's proposed 2009 operating budget.

The $656.7 million budget would allow the school system to hire 151 new employees and to perform upkeep maintenance on older buildings.

"This budget is a realistic and responsible one," Cousin said Thursday before he unveiled the plan to the public.

Under Cousin's budget, teacher salaries would increase by about 5 percent.

In addition, older schools would receive new chillers, heating units, carpet and paint. Some schools also would receive new furniture and equipment in media centers.

Many of these changes would help to reduce the backlog of maintenance requests at the school level, Cousin said.

Funding will be the biggest concern faced by county schools in the process.

Cousin's budget is a 7.2 percent increase despite the fact that the state is expected to increase its funding by 2.9 percent, a $5.2 million increase from last year's $178.5 contribution.

The shortage of funding combined with teacher salaries, benefits and the needs of older schools have resulted in little room for much else, according to Cousin.

One of the few initiatives and positions unveiled under the proposal includes money for a new assistant superintendent to oversee the public information, television services and partnerships offices.

The position would pay between $96,400 and $177,060. The position is a result of a national audit that recommended that the school system centralize communications functions, said Patti Caplan, the school system's current director of public information.

Caplan would not discuss whether she planned to apply for the position. The application deadline is Jan. 11.

In addition, the proposal would pay for a new training coordinator to work with students with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.

"We identified a need," Cousin said. "We want to make sure this is happening."

The school board will hold a public hearing on the proposed budget at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 22. Work sessions will be held Jan. 29 and Feb. 5, 13, and 19. The board is scheduled to adopt the budget Feb. 26 before sending it to the county executive for review.

During this year's budget process, many are expected to talk about finding a recurring funding source on the local level, which would greatly affect the capital budget.

Board members have suggested that Roger Plunkett, the school system's business, community, government relations officer, start lobbying for more money with local members in the state legislature. Plunkett was later asked not to pursue this suggestion because of the financial troubles statewide.

"We thought it would not be met with favorable response," Cousin said. "We will work out an approach in the upcoming year."

One idea being discussed is a transfer tax, Cousin said.

In the past, the school system has used money from an excise tax to help pay capital costs. But after generating more than $60 million from a $1-per-square-foot surcharge on new homes, funding from the excise tax has run dry.


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