Anne Arundel parents and teachers ask for more positions, construction money

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpacella@capgaznews.com

Conor Curran stepped up to the microphone at North County High School on Monday night and told the County Council that he came to speak to them as a concerned student.

With another 1,700 students expected to join the system next year, the Old Mill High School student said he is concerned that the budget proposed by County Executive Steve Schuh will leave them in the same hole they’re in now as student population continues to grow.

“We must plan ahead or we’ll fall behind. And we cannot fall behind in this ever-changing world,” he said. “We must be ahead of the game and provide the best resources for the citizens of this county.”

In more than four hours of testimony May 10 and May 14, residents, students, parents and teachers addressed Schuh’s proposed fiscal year 2019 budget.

Schuh’s proposed budget includes $684.2 million in direct county funding for the Board of Education. That’s up 3.8 percent from the FY18 budget, which provided $659.2 million.

But it is less than the Board of Education requested this February. The board sought $710.1 million from the county. Its plan included about 290 new positions, including 106 teachers to address enrollment growth, 45 teachers to reduce class sizes, 30 new English Language Acquisition teachers, 23 special education positions, 14.4 school counselors, eight social workers and 5.8 school pyschologists.

Schuh’s proposal includes enough money for about 80 jobs, including 44 teachers to address crowded classrooms, six new special education positions, two school pyschologists, staffing to expand the Enhancing Elementary Excellence program to Annapolis schools and staff to open the county’s third early education center.

During the hearings, Brooklyn Park Elementary School English Language Aquisition teacher Nannette Simmons said last year ELA students comprised four percent of the first grade population at her school; this year 17 percent of first-graders are learning English.

The council could find a magic wand to fix the problem, or fund the 30 ELA positions and four bilingual facilitators the board requested, she said.

“I promise you, you’ll get much more bang for your buck,” she said.

Kim Baicar, the school counselor at Broadneck Elementary School, said she has a caseload of 804 students. She responded to five kindergarteners with critical social and emotional needs last week, she said — and that is just one grade level and one week.

“One kinder student in particular bit a teacher, scratched his own teacher drawing blood, threw blocks and a chair at me before punching me in the jaw,” she said.

She said she is concerned for the students who may have similar mental health crises that she isn’t aware of.

The board’s requested budget included enough money for a step increase for eligible employees pending negotiations, a similar increase for noneligible employees, and a two percent cost-of-living increase, according to an analysis released by the school system.

Schuh’s proposal included enough money for two step increases for educators — one at the start of the year and one mid-year. The Teacher’s Association of Anne Arundel County has said that will mean more experienced teachers will miss pay raises.

Lindale Middle School teacher Robert Mauro asked the council to fully fund the Board of Education’s request, and possibly make the cost-of-living increase 3 percent. He’s been teaching for 11 years.

“I hope you throw us a life preserver,” Mauro said.

Schuh’s budget includes $8 million to enclose open space classrooms, which he said in a speech will end “a failed educational experiment from the 1970s.”

Kristin Etzel, founder of the Fund Old Mill School Construction, begged to differ.

“For those that aren’t aware, Rippling Woods Elementary and Old Mill High School have partitions that do not go to the ceiling,” she said.

In the FY18 six-year capital plan, design money for both Rippling Woods and Old Mill West High was scheduled for fiscal year 2021. In its request for FY19, the board sought to pull that money forward into the FY20 capital budget. Schuh’s proposal kept it in 2021.

The school system has a 10-year, $700 million-plus plan to rearrange, build and replace schools in the Old Mill cluster. They bought land for a new Old Mill West High School last year. But that site is across New Cut Road from Archbishop Spalding High School. People testified the plan will create traffic problems there. Traffic projections, officials said, are a ways off — the site and school have not been designed yet.

People testified about the urgent need for revitalizations at Tyler Heights, Edgewater and Richard Henry Lee elementary schools. The board had sought to pull forward money to begin those projects this summer, instead of next spring, but Schuh rejected that plan.

At Monday’s hearing, Annapolis resident William Snell asked how such a wealthy county has parents and teachers talking about no air conditioning in cafeterias and rodents in a band room

“If there’s not enough money, and you really feel these things you’ve heard about are important,” he said, “then I feel you should take the leadership to make sure we get that money.”

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