Schuh's budget has less funding for teaching, mental health jobs than schools sought

Rachael Pacella
Contact Reporterrpacella@capgaznews.com

Board of Education President Julie Hummer pushed back against County Executive Steve Schuh’s budget proposal Tuesday, saying it lacks classroom resources in a way that threatens a crisis for the school system.

In their requested budgets, both the board and Superintendent George Arlotto asked for 106 teachers to address increasing enrollment in the system. The board also added onto Arlotto’s request, asking for 30 new English Language Acquisition teachers, 23 new special education employees, and 45 teachers to address crowded classrooms.

Schuh’s proposed budget includes 50 additional teachers to address class sizes and two new school psychologists, as well as positions to open the Carrie Weedon Early Education Center in south county and expand the Enhancing Elementary Excellence program to Annapolis-area schools.

It’s about 80 educators in total.

“Our schools won’t see a decrease in class sizes, they will see an increase due to the 1,700 students we are expected to add next year,” Hummer said in a statement.

In a speech Tuesday, Schuh said 50 teachers he has in his budget are part of a two-year plan to address some of the most crowded classrooms in the system.

“We now have 120 core classrooms with unacceptable student teacher ratios, including nearly 50 elementary school classrooms with more than 30 students per teacher and 70 middle and high school classrooms with more than 35 students per teacher,” Schuh said. “These ratios are inconsistent with a quality education.”

His spokesman Owen McEvoy said this is a down payment on that plan. Schuh said once they’ve fixed that crisis, they can move on to eliminating all core classrooms with a student to teacher ratio that exceeds 30 to one.

At a Board of Education meeting Wednesday officials said six of those 50 teachers will be special education staff to address enrollment growth.

Schuh’s proposed budget includes $684.2 million in direct funding for the system.

The proposed budget funded two of the 29.2 positions to support student’s social and emotional wellness requested by the board.

Arlotto asked for 10.4 positions, and the board more than doubled that, ultimately requesting 5.8 school psychologists, eight social workers, 14.4 school counselors and one pupil personnel worker. Added up, those positions would cost more than $3 million in fiscal 2019.

The board approved its budget request Feb. 21, one week after a school shooting that left 17 dead in Parkland, Florida. At that meeting, Hummer tied school safety to students’ ability to build relationships in school — something that doesn’t happen with crowded classes and counselors with caseloads of 800 students, she said.

If students are depressed, anxious, and not making connections with others at school they could become isolated, unemployed, addicted to drugs or worse, Hummer said. Knowing someone cares can change their lives, Hummer said.

If they had funded everything the board requested, there would not have been funding to give police or other county employees a pay increase, McEvoy said.

“We have to deal with reality,” he said.

He said the funding the board requested beyond Arlotto’s request was short-sighted and unrealistic.

In March Schuh announced a two-year $15 million plan to boost safety by increasing the number of school resource officers, purchasing bulletproof shields and funding infrastructure improvements, like lockable interior doors and new security cameras.

Schuh provided enough funding for the step increase for eligible teachers requested by the board and a second mid-year step increase, but didn’t fund a two percent cost-of-living increase they requested.

McEvoy said teachers can “max out” on step pay increases, so they felt putting the money where it would help teachers who are at the very start of their careers would be most equitable.

“It can assure we can retain and recruit great teachers,” he said.

Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County Executive Director Bill Jones said the move will leave experienced teachers without, or with less, of a pay bump.

“The people who aren’t eligible because of time and service wouldn't get anything,” Jones said.

Jones said Schuh did not contact the union about the proposal.

The budget isn’t final — now it is in the county council’s hands.

It’s a negotiation, McEvoy said, and as they work with the council it is possible that additional funding could be freed up.

“We look forward to ensuring a quality education for any child in this county,” McEvoy said.

This story has been corrected to report the Board of Education requested funding for one step increase for eligible employees, a similar increase for non-represented employees and a 2 percent cost of living increase. The county executive provided enough money for two step increases for eligible employees, a similar increase for non-represented employees but not the cost of living increase.
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