Acting at the behest of the Board of Commissioners, Charles County School Superintendent James E. Richmond has identified $2.1 million worth of cuts in his proposed fiscal 2000 budget for the system.
Commissioners voted two weeks ago to raise taxes and use some of the new revenue to increase the school system's operating budget for next year by $8.3 million, for a total of $76.2 million in local funding. School officials had wanted an additional $10.4 million for the fiscal year beginning July 1, saying a fully funded budget was necessary to raise teacher salaries, expand a countywide reading program and hire more classroom instructors.
Commissioners asked Richmond to show how the school system would adjust to that shortfall. He said his proposal for how to allocate a budget based on $76.2 million in county funds -- a plan that must be approved by the Board of Education -- primarily would affect administrative areas such as office staff and equipment.
The system's reading program, one of Richmond's key curricular initiatives, would remain largely intact, with its funding increasing by $928,500 next year rather than the $1.2 million increase requested. The smaller increase would mean that schools could buy fewer library books. In addition, a program for gifted readers would keep its current level of funding and not be able to expand to include more students.
Richmond also recommended shaving $450,000 from the budget for school textbooks, so that funding would increase by $300,000 instead of the proposed $750,000. Other cuts include putting off the purchase of a new computer scanner and delaying the filling of extra positions, including a payroll analyst and two janitors.
The superintendent's proposal does not affect pay for teachers -- they'll still receive a 3 percent raise next year -- nor does it alter the number of new teachers who will be hired to accommodate a growing student body. The system still expects to hire 24 new teachers, based on a projected enrollment increase of 600 students. Charles schools currently enroll about 22,000 students.
"It's very much a student-centered budget," Richmond said of his trimmed-down spending plan. "It's focused on student achievement, staff training and materials."
The superintendent presented his proposal to county commissioners at a meeting Tuesday afternoon. "It was very positive," he said. "I'm very pleased with the overall attitude of both the commissioners and the school board. . . . We will work together to achieve the focus that we both want."
Also on Tuesday, Richmond gave commissioners a draft of the system's long-range goals for student performance. Commissioners asked school officials to develop such measures, in exchange for the extra funding for next year.
The "instructional benchmarks," as they're called, spell out what improvements school officials expect from students over the next five years. Richmond has proposed that students be evaluated on their performance on four standardized tests, including the Maryland State Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP) exams and the Scholastic Assessment Test. On those tests, he wants the county's students to beat the state's average MSPAP score by 4 points and its average SAT score by 5 points.
The school board has yet to vote on the benchmarks or Richmond's revised budget. Both votes should take place by the end of June, school officials said.