Baltimore County’s school board is expected to approve a spending plan Tuesday night that includes pay raises for employees, a move that is likely to strain an already tight county budget.
“We stand united in our desire to prioritize investing in our employees,” School Board Chair Kathleen Causey said in a statement Monday.
Causey said the board intends to give teachers both their step increases and a cost-of-living increase, but may cut technology, travel and administrative budgets.
Interim Superintendent Verletta White has proposed some reductions in technology spending, but Causey said the board may go further by buying less expensive laptops and reducing the one-to-one ratio of laptops to students.
Causey said in the statement that some board members are also proposing to reallocate central office money to schools.
The school board appears to be listening to pleas by dozens of parents, teachers and community leaders who asked the school board to give employees raises and lower class sizes.
White’s original budget request on Jan. 8 called for the county to increase school spending by 11.2 percent, and included raises and other increases in staffing that she argued were needed for a rapidly growing school system that has seen an increase in immigrant, low-income and special-education students.
White also wants to lengthen the school day by 15 minutes to align the system with most other districts around the state, a move that the Maryland State Department of Education has been urging for years.
The $1.6 billion budget request was $91 million more than the county is required to spend by state law, and a larger request than in previous years.
Causey and Julie Henn, the vice chair of the school board, asked White in January to revise the budget in response to County Executive Johnny Olszewski’s concerns that he would have to cut $81 million from next year’s county budget and could not fund the kind of increases White was proposing.
White then trimmed the budget by $86 million, a move that brought immediate condemnation from staff, teachers and the public.
If the board decides to restore at least some of the $86 million that was cut, Olszewski, a Democrat and former teacher, would be forced to cut the school board’s request, just months after he campaigned to give generous teacher raises.
The current school board, which was the first one with mostly elected members, is less beholden to the county executive. In the past, the county executive had some say in who was appointed to the volunteer board, making it easier to dictate how much spending the school board should propose for the coming year.
The five unions representing nearly all of the county school system’s 18,000 employees asked that the board approve the budget with salary increases.
Abby Beytin, president of the teachers union, said the original budget “didn’t meet all of our needs, but it had more positions in it. It had a lot of more of the pieces of what we need to move the school system forward.”
Beytin said the unions believed that the school system would fare better if it asked for what it needed. If the budget needs to be cut, she said, she would rather see the county executive and the school leadership work out those details together.
“We can prioritize with him,” she said.
David Marks, a Perry Hall Republican and County Council member, said he believes the County Council supports a pay increase for school system employees.
“I think the prevailing mood is take care of our educators and economize the laptop computer program,” he said of the council.
The county government is facing pressure to raise school funding on many fronts.
A new report issued this week by the county’s Spending Affordability Committee cites “extraordinary” challenges of aligning expenditures with revenues “because for far too long, the County has been under-investing in our public schools and in our other needs.” The committee advises the county executive and council on debt and spending guidelines.
“Our population has continued to rise, and to compound the demands on our government, a typical resident’s needs have risen in number and complexity,” wrote County Council Chairman Tom Quirk, an Oella Democrat who also chairs the Spending Affordability Committee.