The fiscal 2001 budget proposed by Charles County Schools Superintendent James E. Richmond picked up some preliminary endorsements at a public hearing Tuesday night.

"I have no problems with the budget. I'm prepared to support this budget," said Board of Education Vice Chairwoman Kathy Levanduski.

Perhaps because of snow or simple indifference, public attendance was sparse at the hearing, which in years past has attracted dozens of people.

About six people other than staff members attended the hearing, and only one commented on it.

"I emphatically state that the public, the board, the superintendent and staff should not limit itself to the mind-set that class size does not affect the quality of education," said Larry Schindel, a parent whose son once attended public school but is now enrolled in private school. "My wife and I have experienced the negative side of 29 to 31 students in our son's class."

Months of deliberations by the school board and county commissioners lie ahead, but school officials said they expect few objections to Richmond's $143 million budget, noting that both elected bodies have committed to funding the schools' needs.

Some of those needs are additional teachers to reduce class sizes and a summer reading program for middle and high school students reading below grade level.

The school board has scheduled a vote on the budget for its Feb. 8 meeting. Whatever it approves will go to the County Board of Commissioners for consideration. Richmond's budget would increase spending 6.4 percent, or $8.5 million.

After Tuesday evening's abbreviated hearing, the school board held an impromptu work session on the budget, during which some members pronounced themselves satisfied with Richmond's proposal.

Board member Donald M. Wade said the budget seemed adequate "considering the parameters we're working with." School officials expect 225 additional students next year.

Some school board members said they are concerned that the superintendent's budget does not sufficiently address some needs.

Sharon W. Caniglia said the proposal for three new elementary school teachers seemed to fall short.

"When we spread them too thin, they lose their effectiveness," Caniglia said.

Board member Margaret Young said she, too, saw a greater need for additional teachers in the elementary schools.

"I am hearing a lot from my constituents. They would like to see additional dollars to decrease class size," she said. "I don't see much in this budget about increasing teachers at the elementary school level."

The board plans to submit a budget to commissioners on March 1. Once the spending plan is before the commissioners, county fiscal staff will project how to pay for it and determine whether it will affect local tax rates.

Last year, the county commissioners agreed to raise taxes to fund the school budget. The commissioners have scheduled a public hearing for April 11.