Howard school superintendent unveils proposed budget

Howard County schools Superintendent Sydney Cousin unveiled Thursday night a $697 million budget for fiscal year 2013 that is about 2 percent greater than last year's budget and adds 69 new positions to address enrollment growth.

Most new positions would be teachers: 43 in elementary school, 12 in high school and one in middle school.

In addition, the budget calls for no layoffs or furloughs, school officials said.

This year's budget requests $476 million from the county and $215 million from the state. The county would fund 68.3 percent of the budget, almost the same as the current fiscal year. Last year's approved budget totaled $683.8 million.

Chief Operating Officer Raymond Brown said that the county's maintenance of effort — a state-mandated requirement that the county spend the same per pupil for the upcoming year that it did the previous year — will be $472.8 million. The county's enrollment will grow by 876 students for a total of 51,996, he said.

School officials said that the projected enrollment for next year includes 1,092 pre-kindergarten students. They also noted that free and reduced-price meal participation increased by more than 750 students each of the past three years.

Board member Ellen Flynn Giles praised the budget stewardship.

"I think protecting classroom sizes is huge," she said. "The cost-saving measures that are in place continue to reward us in ways that we can continue to use those to offset the expenses for instruction."

However, fellow board member Brian Meshkin worried that it didn't help position the county to be a global leader in education.

"A budget is just as much about priorities as expenditures," he said. "And I'm concerned we're seeing some of the same old things without finding the appropriate costs savings and making the investments where we need to make them."

The budget adds $4.8 million for a media collection for the new Northeastern Elementary, provides for collective-bargaining agreement pay increases and adds $5.3 million to continue programs at current levels.

The proposal reduces the system's utilities' budget by $1.1 million as a result of efficiencies.

Cousin unveiled the budget at Thursday night's school board meeting. It is expected to be his last proposed budget as he is slated to step down at the end of the school year.

The school board will hold public hearings Jan. 31 and budget work sessions in February before adopting a proposal Feb. 21. The County Council will approve a budget May 23, and the school board will adopt the final budget May 29.

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