The Howard County Board of Education, citing budgetary constraints and a commitment to an 8 percent salary increase for teachers, voted yesterday to eliminate summer school classes for virtually all students and to end driver's education.
The board's actions, taken at a six-hour meeting on the school system's budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, means that summer school will be eliminated for about 1,000 elementary, middle and high school students and about 100 teachers who were scheduled to begin classes later this month.
Similarly, school officials said that about 900 sophomores and juniors who were planning to enroll in the certification course that drivers younger than 18 are required to take to obtain a Maryland license will have to attend private driving school, which typically costs about $150.
"I knew it was going to be bad, but not like this," said Sandra French, president of the PTA Council, which represents parents of Howard's 25,000 public school students. "I look back at what I had as a kid and took for granted, and see them being cut for my kids. That's hard to accept."
During yesterday's meeting, board members said the program cuts were necessary to make up for funds they requested but did not receive when the Howard County Council approved its annual budget last month. The board cut about $4.2 million from its $118 million budget yesterday to make up for the shortfall.
Although the school board this year received one of its largest budget increases ever, it also made some of its deepest cuts, according to School Superintendent Michael E. Hickey. The reason, he said, is that between a commitment to raise teacher salaries and a school population that is growing by about 700 students a year, the school system's needs are much greater than in recent years.
The board voted to end summer school for all but about 350 high school students who need to repeat courses to either advance to the next grade or to graduate. The school board saved about $106,000 by eliminating summer school for students who wanted to graduate early or take extra classes they could not take during the regular school year. Dropping driver's education saved $158,000, school officials said.
In looking for areas to cut, the school board tried first "to reduce programs that were outside of the regular school day," such as driver's education and summer school, said board member Deborah D. Kendig.
Nevertheless, the board found itself also cutting most of the new initiatives it had hoped to start next year, as well as dipping into the budgets for several existing programs. The board:
Decided against new teaching positions including 10 middle school teachers who would have composed the final phase of the county's gifted and talented program, and a math specialist for elementary school students.
Eliminated new textbooks and other equipment meant to improve elementary school math, reading and social science programs, and new classroom computers.
Cut in half the budget for a program that provides child care and counseling services for teen-age mothers. The program, which usually has about 15 students at a time, would have to be restructured to serve the same number of girls.
The board also increased teacher salaries by 8 percent next year and each of the two years after that.
Several board members predicted an even gloomier outlook for next year, with higher teacher pay and more students. "I think it's pretty clear that we will not be able to launch any major program initiatives next year," Kendig said.