Spending on employee salaries and special-education programs, as well as concerns about technology, dominated the discussion during a public hearing on the proposed county schools budget for next year.
Most of the 34 people who spoke during the school board's hearing, including the heads of the teachers union and the administrators union, supported Superintendent Sydney L. Cousin's proposed $656.7 million spending plan.
"This budget includes numerous items that will enhance and improve the achievement of our students as it addresses needs at each school level, as well as systemic needs," said Triadelphia Ridge Elementary School Principal Sue Webster, president of the Howard County Administrators Association.
Cousin's proposed budget for fiscal 2009, which starts July 1, would allow the school system to hire 151 employees and to maintain older buildings.
Under Cousin's plan, older schools would receive new chillers, heating units, carpet and paint. Some schools would also receive new furniture and equipment in media centers. Many of these changes would help to reduce the backlog of maintenance requests, Cousin has said.
The plan represents a 7.2 percent increase over the $612.9 million budget for the current year. A bulk of the proposed $43.8 million increase to the operating budget results from teacher salaries and benefits resulting from union negotiations.
Ann DeLacy, president of the Howard County Education Association, thanked the board for increasing teacher salaries.
DeLacy also raised concerns about teacher workload.
DeLacy suggested that the board expand the Teacher Resource Center at Faulkner Ridge. She also encouraged establishing an effective mentoring program for elementary teachers.
Several parents who testified Tuesday night supported Cousin's plan to add a training coordinator to work with students with learning disabilities and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders.
Stephanie Maric, co-president of the Howard County Autism Society, told the board that she supported Cousin's plan to add 20 student assistants who will work directly with special-needs students.
Ben Vaughn Jr., a 14-year-old freshman at Atholton High School, urged the board to fully fund the budget and to continue supporting the Gifted and Talented Program.
The experience of working with a TV production program while he was a student at Lime Kiln Middle gave Ben "tremendous leadership experience and skills," he told the board.
Some voiced concern about the school system's technology offerings.
Chris Wertman, chairman of the Community Advisory Council, said that the school system needs to establish a senior leadership position in which "various functions are brought together under one leader who knows and understands technology at its core and would be able to bring their expertise to bear across the entire school system."
Howard County PTA Council President Mary Jane Barbato-Grauso said that the school system should have a centralized student-data collection program.
Barbato-Grauso also objected to the amount of time that the public had to review the proposed budget. Cousin unveiled the spending plan three weeks ago.
Work sessions for the budget will be held Jan. 29, and Feb. 5, 13 and 19. The board is scheduled to adopt a budget Feb. 26 before sending it to the county executive for review.