School Superintendent Patricia M. Richardson presented St. Mary's County school board members with a scaled-back budget proposal for fiscal 2001 that would forgo several new positions she previously requested, and possibly would jeopardize the county's efforts to reduce class sizes and provide student services.

The move, taken at the request of the Board of Education, came just a week after Richardson presented her original spending plan. Board members will now consider both proposals as they shape a budget for the coming school year.

"We didn't want to take any of these out," Richardson said during Wednesday's Board of Education meeting. One by one, staff members went before the board to explain the consequences of cutting several of the superintendent's initiatives and holding off on hiring 18 of the 85.4 staff members requested in the original proposal.

Richardson's original proposal calls for a $94.7 million operating budget, an increase of $7.6 million over the current budget of $87.1 million. Reluctant to create so many new positions, board members asked her to draft an alternative, lower budget. Richardson complied, providing a $93.7 million budget. Both plans will be on the table at the board's Feb. 29 meeting, when members hope to vote on the budget.

The alternative budget would decrease the number of teachers requested to reduce class size from approximately 24 new instructors to 19, for a savings of $198,440. Among the consequences: The average class size for first and second grades would be 21.1, instead of the 20.9 projected under the original proposal. A similar scenario would take effect in grades 3 through 5, with classes having an average of 25.3 students instead of 24.9.

The school system made progress in reducing class sizes in its elementary schools this year, and for some that makes the prospect of slowing those efforts a worrisome one.

"In essence, this year we'll be taking a step forward and next year a step back," said school board member Mary M. Washington, who already publicly supported the original budget proposal.

Other cuts from the original proposal include two teachers for the technical center, which staff members said would mean that fewer students will be able to enroll in certain programs; one middle school counselor; a technology trainer; a sign language interpreter; and a swimming program.

Staff members said they could go without hiring a teacher for English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) students, but doing so would mean that the county will have to make due with just three ESOL teachers.

"Our [ESOL] population is increasing and the number of languages we're dealing with is increasing, and we need to provide additional services," said Elaine Kramer, budget director.

The possibility of hiring four additional custodians instead of six was not received favorably by some. School buildings will grow by about 150,000 square feet by the time renovation projects are completed next year, school officials said.

"We keep bringing on square footage, and we don't have the people to keep them up," said board member Michael L. Hewitt.

The school system also may not be able to increase pay for substitute teachers, staff members said. That would mean a bigger challenge in attracting substitutes, officials said.

"What we're competing with is not other counties. What we're competing with is a good economy," said William May, director of human resources. "The impact is that if we don't have a full pool of subs, what we're left with is folks at the school level have to cover."

While cutting several positions, the superintendent also added a position for a grant specialist, at a cost of $57,265. Board members asked her to consider creating a position for a person in charge of writing grant proposals.

The school board will spend the next few weeks trying to reach a consensus on the budget, which they plan to present to county commissioners by March.

"We definitely need to make sure that the needs of the students are adequately met," Washington said. "These are very painful things we have to look at as a possibility of being cut."

Operating Budgets for St. Mary's County Public Schools

Fiscal 2000 Fiscal 2001 (1)

$87.1 million $94.7 million

Sources of Funding:

County $46.3 million $52 million

State $38.2 million $40 million

Federal $1.5 million $1.7 million

Other (prior year fund $1.1 million $1.1 million

balance, fees etc.)

Proposed increases for fiscal 2001 (1)

* $2 million to comply with negotiated agreements with employees; contracts for teachers and staff call for a 2.5 percent pay raise.

* $35,500 for increased teacher stipends and recruitment costs.

* $13,020 for negotiated stipends.

* $131,100 in increased insurance costs.

* $131,902 to extend several positions to longer terms, including converting counselor positions to 12 months.

* $6,275 for additional days for special education teachers.

* $190,350 for increased instructional materials allotment reflecting program changes, increased enrollment, etc.

* $898,818 in increased transportation costs, including three new buses.

* $167,820 for additional equipment and furniture.

* $175,719 in maintenance costs.

* $104,000 for new vehicles.

* $264,000 for library collections at several schools, including Esperanza Middle School.

* $200,000 in textbook costs.

* $205,175 in technology costs, including increased maintenance costs and software.

* $68,143 in increased field trip costs.

* $54,650 for staff and curriculum development.

* $30,065 in contract services, including a hearing officer.

* $68,084 for home and hospital program.

* $19,333 for supplies and travel, including those related to athletics.

* $16,092 in additional funding for student programs, including a cosmetology program.

* $3,000 for test scoring and assessment costs.

* $6,300 for commencement exercises.

* $5,325 in other instructional costs.

Additional costs for 85.4 new full-time positions:

* $956,481 for about 24 additional teachers to reduce class size.

* $59,532 for 1.5 additional kindergarten teachers.

* $158,752 for four tech center teachers.

* $12,745 for part-time librarian.

* $312,567 for special education personnel, including four teachers and two assistants.

* $134,851 for three therapists.

* $33,395 for a sign language interpreter.

* $252,176 for technology personnel, including technology trainers and technicians.

* $90,900 for a director of academic support.

* $70,285 for an assistant director to focus efforts on the high school assessment.

* $57,265 for an assessment specialist to provide data analysis.

* $73,641 for 2.5 secretaries, including a part-time transportation secretary.

* $221,031 for four instructional resource teachers.

* $121,749 for counselors.

* $79,376 for two child development teachers.

* $39,688 for an elementary school ESOL teacher.

* $118,300 for two nurses.

* $56,649 for three aides.

* $61,497 for an assistant principal for Piney Point Elementary School.

* $74,231 for four hall monitors.

* $212,965 for eight maintenance workers, including custodians.

* $17,852 for a driver to deliver mail within the school system.

* $36,650 for a program assistant to focus on insurance and employee benefits programs.

* $54,146 for a planning coordinator to address facilities/renovation issues.

(1) Original proposal

SOURCE: St. Mary's County public schools