Baltimore County school officials are proposing a 5.7 percent increase in next year’s operating budget to $1.6 billion, nearly all of the increase coming from county taxpayers.
About half of the increase — $40 million — goes to boost salaries and benefits to teachers and staff. Interim School Superintendent Verletta White said the increase would be a 2 percent increase in salary for school staff. She also proposes to continue the expansion of a program to provide a laptop for every child and move to a digital curriculum. Under the initiative, all high school students would receive the laptops next fall and the cost would increase by $10.4 million.
She would also add more pre-kindergarten classrooms, expand magnet programs and give more support for gifted students.
The budget has to be approved by the county school board, as well as the county executive and the county council.
In a presentation to the school board Tuesday night, White highlighted the success in closing the gap in graduation rates between black and white students, increases in the enrollment and the number of students eligible for subsidized school lunches. White said the school system should provide more opportunities for students to take college courses, career and technology classes, and arts classes.
The budget includes another 80 positions, mostly teachers, to keep up with an enrollment increase of slightly more than 1,000 students per year. The system also has seen an increase in students needing additional services.
The budget would add teachers and staff for both special education and immigrants learning English, areas that have had high student-teacher ratios.
She said the system needs to invest in additional resources for those students. “They are some of our most vulnerable populations,” she said.
An audit of the special education found a critical need for more staff, and an increase of 2.1 million in the budget would add 40 school positions.
White adds 18 new positions for English language learners who are often newly arrived immigrants, at a cost of $972,000. The increase continues the addition of teachers to bring down the student-teacher ratio of one student to 56 teachers. The population of immigrants is growing rapidly, more than doubling in the past several years.
“We will address the concerns we hear repeatedly from the community,” White said.
The school system has added a million square feet of space to the facilities but has not been adding facilities staff for maintenance. So the budget, she said, includes money to increase for more positions to maintain buildings and buses.
“This budget proposal invests in wraparound services,” White said, including school counselors, social workers and psychologists.