Calvert County Schools Superintendent James R. Hook said Thursday he will ask later this month for an 8.4 percent increase in the schools' next operating budget. The extra $7.8 million is needed to open a new middle school, honor employee collective bargaining agreements and reduce class sizes in the rapidly growing county.

Getting full funding for his $100.6 million budget--up from $92.8 million for fiscal 2000---will be a challenge. Hook will ask for almost $5 million more from the county, an increase of 8.5 percent. Under his plan, the total county appropriation would be $63.3 million.

County commissioners voted late last year to limit any spending increase to 2 percent more than the $58.9 million required by the state in 2001. That minimum amount is based on a formula requiring the county to spend at least the same amount per pupil it spent the previous year. That translates into a limit of about $1.8 million in additional funds.

Hook has called that cap unrealistic. In an interview Friday, he said his proposed budget provides for the bare essentials and few new initiatives. As the fastest-growing county in the state, Calvert needs more resources than most other counties, including new schools, he said. Hook said projections show the county will have 447 more students next year, a growth rate of about 3 percent.

He said not getting the full funding would be a "disaster for this school system."

"If this budget is not funded, we're going to go backward and we might go so far behind that we won't be able to bounce back," he said.

Hook said he hopes to drum up public support for his budget. A public hearing is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27 in the Calvert High School auditorium. The location was changed from the Board of Education's meeting room to accommodate the throngs of people Hook hopes will attend.

The budget also would require $35.7 million in state funding, a relatively modest increase from the $33 million the state kicked in for fiscal 2000.

The remainder of school funding is covered by federal grants and other fees.

The projected cost to open Mill Creek Middle School is $1.4 million. An additional $2.4 million is needed to honor salary contracts, which include a 2.5 percent pay increase, and $400,000 is needed to cover student transportation costs, which include four new buses.

To reduce class sizes, the superintendent wants $129,000 for three second-grade teachers, $258,000 for six middle school English teachers and $258,000 for six high school English teachers.

An additional $115,830 will be used to hire 4.5 full-time secondary nurses.

In all, the budget would create about 96 new full-time positions, including teachers and nurses.

County commissioners will review the budget by March.