Superintendent James E. Richmond unveiled his proposal this week for a 6.4 percent increase in the Charles County school system's next operating budget. Richmond said the additional funds would be used to hire more teachers for a growing school population, increase teachers' starting salaries and establish a summer reading academy for middle and high school students.

Richmond presented his $143 million budget request for fiscal 2001 at Tuesday's Board of Education meeting. The plan calls for spending $8.5 million more than the current operating budget of $134.5 million, which comprises $56.5 million in state funds and $75.6 million in county funds. The rest comes from fees, grants and other sources.

The proposed budget would require a 6.3 percent increase in state funding and a 6.6 percent increase in county funding.

Richmond's request calls for larger funding increases than those granted in recent years--a necessity, he said, if the 22,000-student school system is to begin new instructional programs and maintain existing funding for reading programs, staff development and minority recruitment.

"This budget, although it isn't everything, is what we need," Richmond said. "We've got a long ways to go."

Richmond asked for an additional $1.2 million for the county's school improvement program. The bulk of that money, $753,000, would be used to prepare for state-mandated testing that high school seniors will be required to take before graduating.

Although the required exams won't begin for a few years, Richmond said it is now time to help prepare students by providing 12 additional teachers to reduce class sizes, as well as five instructional coordinators. "We need to start now," he said. An additional $335,000 would be used to hire eight more teachers for the county's seven middle schools, and $140,000 would be committed to extra staffing in the elementary schools.

The additional teachers are needed to accommodate continuing growth in enrollment. Officials say they expect an additional 225 full-time students next year, a smaller jump than this year but still enough to fill several more classrooms.

Richmond's spending plan attempts to address the national teaching shortage that administrators expect will worsen in coming years.

"I'm concerned that we [won't be able to] really go out and hire those teachers," he said of the faculty additions contemplated in his budget.

An additional $200,000 is included in the budget for teacher recruiting and another $200,000 is allocated to a hiring incentive program that would focus on critical shortage areas, such as special education.

Richmond announced Tuesday a new starting salary for teachers of $31,200 in the coming school year, up from $29,106 this year. Teachers also will receive $500 for five in-service days at the beginning of the school year and $300 for moving expenses. Additionally, teachers in critical shortage areas can receive signing bonuses of $1,000.

For his ongoing reading program, Richmond is asking for an extra $200,000 for middle and high school summer reading academies.

The budget also sets aside an additional $5.6 million for a multi-year negotiated agreement on employee salaries and benefits, $1.025 million to place special education students in private institutions (this will be offset by additional state funding of $665,000 for a net operating budget impact of $360,000) and $588,000 for transportation costs.

A public hearing on the proposed budget is scheduled for 6 p.m. Jan. 18 at the main school office on Radio Station Road in La Plata.

The school board plans to approve a final budget on Feb. 8 and expects to submit the budget to county commissioners on March 1.

CAPTION: Superintendent James Richmond said students need to start preparing for the future required state graduation exam.