School officials are keeping their fingers crossed in hopes of snaring more state construction money, despite a recommendation last week by a state agency against financing two new elementary schools and a middle school in Howard.

But if Howard loses its battle with tight-fisted state bureaucrats, school officials hope the county government will provide the $15.9 million to keep pace with system's rapid growth.

School Supt. Michael E. Hickey said Tuesday he's optimistic the county will provide the extra money for the proposed northern and northeastern elementary schools cut last week by the state Interagency Committee. The two schools were scheduled to open in the fall of 1990.

On Tuesday, Deputy Supt. Charles Ecker was in Baltimore appealing the agency's recommendation to the Department of Education. Hickey said a decision is expected in a few weeks.

If Howard loses that appeal, Hickey said the school system will make a last-ditch effort to overturn the IAC recommendation to the state Board of Public Works. The Public Works Board is composed of the Gov. William Schaefer, the Comptroller of the Treasury Louis Goldstein and State Treasurer Lucy Maurer.

By early March, when the proposed school budget gets ready for County Council review, the school system should how much state money it will receive for the 1989 fiscal year, which starts July 1, Hickey said.

If all else fails, Hickey said the school system will ask the county government to make up for the shortfall.

He said the county could delay other capital improvement projects for about two years in order to give the school system a chance to catch up with the 24 percent enrollment increase projected over the next five years.

"We're the ones getting the additional kids," Hickey said. "You can delay a park or a road project," he said, "but when kids are here, we have to find a place for them."

However, last month, the county's bond affordability committee recommended that Howard officials issue no more than $33 million in bonds next year to avoid future property increases.

If the county set asides $15.9 million for school projects, there would be about $17 million left for several other high-priority construction projects, including requests for new fire stations, a proposed police substation in the southern part of the county, and expansion plans at Howard Community College.

But Hickey said the school system's construction demands will drop after two years, when enrollment is expected to level off.

In the fiscal years 1989 and 1990, Hickey said the school system will need $16 million in bond financing for new school construction. In 1991, the school predicts its request will drop off to about $10 million, he said.

In the past few years, the schools have depended heavily on the county for school construction money. In the last two years, Howard has received about $139,000 in construction costs from the state, officials said.

Wealthier counties like Howard and Montgomery will find it even tougher to obtain state funds if a new financing formula is approved later this month, Hickey said.

State officials have proposed providing 50 percent of the cost of construction for well-off counties, giving more of the money to poorer jurisdictions, such as the city of Baltimore.

In a bit of good news for the school system, the state committee recommended that Maryland pay half of the $9.4 million promised for the construction for the Bollman Bridge Elementary School in Savage. That school is scheduled to open next fall.