Howard County Superintendent Renee Foose Tuesday proposed a $742 million operating budget for fiscal year 2015, up $16.7 million and 2.3 percent from last year’s $725.3 million approved budget.
This is the first year the school system has used a zero-based budgeting model, essentially starting from scratch and building the budget up from the ground. Doing so, Foose said, was a “major undertaking and a huge risk.” It’s also a huge step forward, she said.
“It’s looking at the budgeting process through a completely different lens,” she said.
The proposal includes a request of $512.1 million from the county government (up $14.6 million from last year) and a $217.7 million request from the state (up $1.4 million from last year).
The proposed budget includes more than 25 new positions to support expected enrollment increases of about 358 students, 34 positions to support initiatives of Foose’s strategic plan, Vision 2018. Those initiatives include expanding the elementary world language program and the school system’s pre-kindergarten program.
The budget also includes $2.4 million and more than 31 new jobs to open the new Thomas Viaduct Middle School in August.
Foose said $3.4 million was saved by reallocating existing resources and employees to different program areas to support the strategic plan.
By and large, board members lauded the budget and the zero-based budgeting approach.
“I’m impressed with this budget,” said Vice Chairwoman Ann De Lacy. “This looks at our school system holistically. It looks at all our communities, all our stakeholders who are involved. It makes us go from good, to the best. … Never before have we had data to measure the success of our students or programs other than (standardized tests).”
At the budget presentation, the board room in the Department of Education was standing room only, filled with more than 100 people. Most of them were teachers and members of the Howard County Education Association.
“I hope (the board) matches words to actions,” HCEA President Paul Lemle said. “We keep hearing the message that our employees are the best in the state, maybe the nation, and we keep seeing the same pay freeze.”
Meshkin voiced concern that there was no placeholder included in the budget for employee raises. A .5 percent cost-of-living increase are part of the proposal for teachers put forth by the district in contract negotiations. De Lacy said she felt it was “extremely inappropriate” that the board include a dollar amount in a placeholder prior to negotiating.
Last year, after work sessions, the budget the board sent to the county council for approval included a $13.9 million placeholder for employee salary increases. Last year, employees got a raise, but Lemle said salaries haven’t kept up with cost of living.
A public hearing on the proposed budget is Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. Work sessions will follow Feb. 4 at 7 p.m., Feb. 6 at 1 p.m., Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 18 at 1 p.m. All work sessions and the public hearing will be held at the Department of Education in Ellicott City. The board will vote on the request Feb. 25 at 7:30 p.m., and upon approval the request will go before the county council. More public hearings and work sessions will follow at the county level.