The Howard County schools will operate with a budget of $176.6 million in the coming school year, $1 million less than requested by the Board of Education but 15.7 percent more than in the current year.

Meeting last week to pare its budget plans, as directed by the county executive and County Council, the board said it could trim $403,130 in anticipated teacher salaries.

The cut is possible because younger, more inexperienced teachers are tending to apply for openings when older employees retire or resign, school officials said. The school system expects to hire 141 teachers for the year.

Also included in the budget cut is a saving from lowering the salaries of some starting positions.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said a large number of applicants are beginning teachers, who will be paid $25,550 a year starting in the fall. A teacher with 14 years of experience can earn $42,102.

The five-member school board also cut $1 million from the capital budget, getting it down to $36.9 million.

At the same meeting it also voted to raise Hickey's salary from $94,387 to $99,106 a year and approved raises of 5 percent to 8.9 percent for four associate superintendents.

The issue of teacher hiring in Howard has recently attracted new attention by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last month the EEOC's Baltimore regional office reactivated a 1988 inquiry, specifically to see whether the employment of younger teachers unlawfully discriminates against applicants over age 40.

Commission investigators placed an advertisement in the Baltimore Sun asking teachers who contemplated applying to the county to "share their concerns" about the county's hiring policies.

The earlier EEOC inquiry was part of a statewide look at school hiring practices. At that time it was determined that about a fourth of the new teachers had less than six years' experience. No charges were filed.

Also trimmed from the Howard schools operating budget last week were some new equipment, such as trucks, lawn mowers and furniture, and some of the anticipated costs of staff health insurance and heating oil.

Revised estimates indicated that health insurance costs would be increasing by 20 percent, rather than the expected 25 percent, for a saving of $265,540, and that heating oil prices will decline by 3 cents a gallon, saving $50,000.

The capital budget was trimmed earlier by the County Council, which cut a request for a central warehouse and reduced a $1.1 million proposal for barrier-free renovations to $600,000.

The council also deferred a request for $581,000 in planning money for an elementary school proposed for the northern part of the county.