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Baltimore County school board passes budget that boosts superintendent’s request; Olszewski likely to cut it back

The Baltimore County school board passed a $1.7 billion operating budget Tuesday night that is likely to be slashed once it arrives on the county executive’s desk.

The Baltimore County Superintendent Darryl L. Williams called the budget aspirational when he proposed it to the school board in January. His plan called for a $114 million increase that would have required an 11 percent increase from county taxpayers. If passed by the county executive and the council, it would be one of the largest school budget increases in recent years.

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Williams said he understood that such a large increase might have to be phased in over several years, but he said he wanted to ask for what he believes is needed.

The school board didn’t think it was enough.

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Two weeks ago, the board added $30 million in spending to the proposed budget. The largest increases came from giving all employees in bargaining units a cost-of-living increase and $15 million to negotiate lengthening the school day with the teachers. The county has one of the shortest high school days in the state.

Then the board added a little more than $1 million Tuesday night, almost all of it for replacing water outlets in schools that had lead levels that are too high. The faucets and fountains in those schools have been turned off and students there are drinking bottled water instead.

Moments after the board voted unanimously to pass the budget, County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. made it clear he would not approve it.

“The school board’s proposal is aspirational, with admirable goals that will require several budget cycles — and passage of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future — to fully attain,” he said in the statement.

The Blueprint is a bill pending before the General Assembly that would increase spending on education by $4 billion by the year 2030.

“Education is my administration’s top priority. ... Superintendent Williams and I share a vision of creating a world-class educational system and a mutual understanding that such a system will take time and partnership from the state,” Olszewski said.

Williams wants to increase the staffing in schools by adding 360 teachers after a time when the school system increased spending on technology, shrunk school budgets and raised class sizes. The new teaching positions would keep pace with rapidly growing enrollment — 1,000 new students are walking into county schools each year — and provide smaller class sizes for schools with larger numbers of economically disadvantaged children.

Williams’ first budget as a new superintendent offers a road map to where he will place his focus as he tries to improve achievement in a school system that has seen declining test scores in recent years.

He also would add more than $53 million to cover increases in benefits and salaries, and hire more nurses, counselors and social workers. In all, the budget calls for the addition of 482 positions.

Williams hopes to add more teachers for both English learners and special education students.

Schools with large high-poverty populations would get more teachers to help struggling students.

Williams said he wants to add some full-day prekindergarten spots and provide more money for maintenance. He would add some 65 bus attendants and give bus drivers training to help solve problems with transportation.

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