By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
9:52 PM EST, January 8, 2013
Baltimore County classrooms would have about 100 more teachers next school year under a budget proposal unveiled Tuesday by Superintendent Dallas Dance.
In his first spending plan since taking the post, Dance presented a $1.3 billion operating budget to the county school board, saying a top priority will be managing growth in the school system of 107,000 students.
Dance, who became superintendent this summer, is advocating spending about $4.7 million on additional teachers because of projected increases in student enrollment. He also wants to add safety equipment to schools and more staff in a new safety office, created after a shooting on the first day of school at Perry Hall High and other gun-related incidents in schools.
The total budget is an increase of 3.3 percent, or $41.9 million, over the current one. School board members are set to vote on the plan Feb. 5.
"We have to make the investment now," Dance told the board. "You get what you pay for. And we either pay for it now, or we pay for it later."
The county schools' student population is expected to increase by about 1,400 students in fiscal year 2014. School officials project a population of 111,550 by 2019.
Additionally, Dance wants to spend $5.7 million on programs to raise academic standards and close achievement gaps, including the development of an elementary language arts curriculum that is accessible online, and expansion of the AdvancePath program — which helps at-risk students through online instruction — to Lansdowne High School.
The proposed budget creates two administrative positions, both in the new safety and security office, totaling about $182,500. The plan includes $2.5 million to make school buildings more secure through cameras, monitors and other safety equipment. Dance also wants to add six counselors to the current staff of 269 counselors, which would cost $300,000.
Dance, an advocate of technology in schools, also wants to spend $4 million to expand wireless technology in classrooms and another $4 million to start a student data management system.
School board President Lawrence Schmidt said he was pleased that the budget proposal would increase teaching positions but not add many administrative jobs.
"It looks fairly lean," he said of Dance's proposal. "It acknowledges the fiscal realities that we've got out there."
The county is funding schools right at "maintenance of effort" levels, a state requirement that calls for local governments to maintain a minimum level of per-pupil spending. For the fourth consecutive year, the county doesn't plan to go above that level.
Dance pointed to spending per pupil in other Maryland counties. The statewide average in 2010 — the most recent data available — was $13,297, compared with $12,967 in Baltimore County. "This is not something that we should be celebrating," Dance said. "It is below the state average."
The budget includes $9.6 million in cuts, including a savings of $7.8 million through attrition.
Employee costs in the budget include $15.1 million for salary step increases and $6.8 million in benefits for employees and retirees.
The budget also includes $4.3 million to cover teacher pension costs that were shifted from the state to local governments last year.
Last year, former Superintendent Joe A. Hairston proposed a $1.23 billion operating budget that allowed the county to hire teachers because of increasing enrollment, after he was criticized the previous year for cutting high school teaching positions while keeping administrators.
A public hearing on the school budget is scheduled for 7 p.m. Jan. 15 at West Towson Elementary School.
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