Proposed Baltimore County school budget calls for 8.5 percent increase

Liz Bowie
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
School employees get boost in pay under proposed school budget

The Baltimore County school system would give its employees a 2 percent pay increase and hire more than 100 new teachers under the proposed budget presented to the school board Tuesday night.

The spending proposal includes an 8.5 percent increase in local funding which, if approved, would be one of the largest increases in recent years.

The pay increase is part of a four-year plan to boost salaries for all full-time school employees, designed to make up for years when smaller or no raises were provided. It would help bring the salaries of the county's 9,000 teachers closer to the average pay in large school systems in the region.

The raise and other expenditures also mean local taxpayers would be footing the bill for 6.6 percent more in school spending than the minimum required by state law.

Superintendent Dallas Dance's proposed $1.6 billion operating budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 must get the approval of the school board, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the county council.

"It is a bare bones budget request," Dance said.

Two years ago Dance asked for an 8 percent increase and was met with some resistance from Kamenetz, who called school board members into his office to discuss the proposal. About $18 million was slashed from the request before it the board approved it. This year, Dance said he has conferred with the county's budget office while writing the school spending plan.

"We have been, and will continue to be, very supportive of education, but it is too early in our review process to say exactly what portion of this request will be funded," said Don Mohler, the chief of staff for Kamenetz.

Dance is asking for one time expenditures for textbooks and technology upgrades for schools, but much of the new money would go to hire teachers for the 1,100 new students expected to arrive in classrooms in September. For the past eight years, the system has been growing at more than 1,000 students a year, and the enrollment is now at 112,000. Dance must add 70 new teachers to keep pace with the enrollment.

"I wanted to make sure that class sizes stay the same," Dance said.

Dance is not initiating any new programs in the schools next year and will instead continue to implement those he began in the past several years.

The county, which has not raised property taxes in more than 28 years, spends about $2,000 less per pupil than many of the largest school systems in the state such as Prince George's, Montgomery, Howard and Baltimore City.

The county budget is funded by federal, state and local tax dollars, but revenues from the federal and state governments are expected to be essentially flat next year.

The raise for teachers is part of a four-year, 11 percent negotiated increase. County teachers have also agreed to increase their share of health premium costs.

"These increases go a long way to move us forward, yet we still need more," said Abby Beyton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. "We are still behind counterparts in neighboring jurisdictions."

As the economy improves, Beyton said, some teachers are walking away from their jobs because of what they see as large workloads, low pay and lack of support.

Beyond funding pay increases, the budget would pay for 15 new teachers for students with special needs and 17 new teachers for immigrants learning English. The money would lower class sizes for both populations of students, which Dance said have been growing, particularly English learners who now number about 5,100 students. Three new positions have been added for Owings Mills High School, where immigrants began flooding in several years ago.

Dance is continuing to push his multiyear plan to assign a laptop computer to every student. Slightly more than half the students have laptops today, including elementary students and sixth graders. All middle schoolers would get them next year at a cost of $4.5 million.

The superintendent is hoping to increase spending for foreign language instruction, pushing Spanish into more elementary schools. He would add six foreign language instructors to teach fifth grade Spanish in another 15 elementary schools.

In addition, he is proposing to continue computer programming in two schools and launch an Early College High School at Woodlawn. The program would allow students to take college and high school classes at the school. Students could graduate with a two-year college degree.

Dance is asking for several one time requests from the county, including $6.2 million for textbooks and instructional materials and technology upgrades and wiring.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the operating budget Jan. 17 and is expected to vote on it Feb. 7. It then goes to the county executive and county council for approval in May.

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