Superintendent Renee Foose’s first proposed operating budget since taking the helm of Howard County schools carries a price tag of $721.1 million, a 2.5 percent increase from last year.
“In this proposed budget, my highest priority is to protect the classroom, and putting the children first,” Foose said Thursday, Jan. 3 in her presentation to the Board of Education. “I am committed to giving teachers the resources they need so that their time can be spent in the classroom helping each and every student succeed.”
Foose’s proposal for fiscal 2014 represents an increase of $17.4 million from last year’s approved budget of nearly $703.7 million. The request — which must be reviewed by the Board of Education before being submitted to County Executive Ken Ulman's office in March — includes asking the county for $489.4 million, which makes up 67.9 percent of the budget.
Foose took over as superintendent in July 2012, replacing Sydney Cousin, who retired after eight years. In the last years of Cousin's tenure, he repeatedly submitted “maintenance of effort” budgets — the bare minimum required to keep the system functioning. Foose described her proposal as “essentially a maintenance of effort budget.”
The budget request includes a 10 percent cut in “supplies overall, with the significant exception of monies allocated to schools,” and $872,500 in cuts to the transportation budget.
During her presentation, Foose said the system has made reductions totaling $9.9 million across the system, including cuts in transportation, supplies, printing and the elimination of 12 positions through “attrition” in the past months, in which retirees were either not replaced or replaced by less senior staff members. Savings from salary turnovers represent the largest reductions, nearly $1.7 million. Cuts in supplies totaled about $1.6 million.
Foose also is requesting $15.5 million to cover the increase in employee health and dental benefits, an ongoing result of the General Assembly voting last year to gradually shift the cost of teachers’ pensions to the local level.
The school system also expects enrollment to increase by 550 students next fiscal year, and open a new elementary school on Ducketts Lane in Elkridge in August, so about 68 new employee positions are included in the proposed request.
“All in all, we face the prospect of at least several more lean years,” Foose wrote in her letter introducing the budget. “We must be strategic in choosing where to invest funds and human capital. My steadfast commitment is to put our children first.”
Foose said in the coming months, parents, staff, students and community members would meet in focus groups to help put together a strategic plan, which would further help align priorities and resources in future budgets, and would help determine what programs are, or are not, improving student achievement.
If a program does not work, Foose said, it would be discontinued — a move board members responded to favorably.
“I don’t think in all my years coming here I have heard the assertion that programs are going to evaluated on their effectiveness, looking at going forward with, or deleting programs based on how well they influence student achievement,” said Board Member Ann De Lacy, the former president of the Howard County Education Association who won election to the board last November.
Other board members applauded Foose’s budget presentation and the steps she is taking in establishing her strategic plan.
The board has scheduled a public hearing on Foose's proposal Jan. 31 at 7 p.m., as well as public work sessions Feb. 5, Feb. 7, Feb. 12 and Feb. 19. All are in the board room of the Department of Education, 10910 Route 108 in Ellicott City. The board is scheduled to adopt the proposal Feb. 21.
Ulman is scheduled to present his budget to the County Council April 29, the same day as the council’s public hearing on the education budget at the George Howard Building, 3420 Courthouse Drive, in Ellicott City. The council’s public work session for the education budget is scheduled for May 14.
The council’s final vote on Ulman’s budget is May 23. A final board vote on the budget is scheduled for May 28.