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Baltimore County school board sends $1.74B budget to county executive’s desk

Baltimore County Board of Education passed a $1.74 billion budget plan Tuesday night, sending it to the county executive and council for final consideration.

The budget plan for the 2021-22 academic year calls for adding 15 minutes to the school day, providing a 2% cost of living increase for unionized employees and hiring more teachers, counselors, social workers and healthcare providers.

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If approved, the board’s plan would also reallocate funds —as yet, unidentified — to increase spending per pupil and to create $175,000 for school grants for family engagement.

The plan is headed next to the desk of Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a former teacher who ran for office on an education platform.

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“Education remains the administration’s top priority and County Executive Olszewski is proud to have provided record funding every year for our schools,” spokesman Sean Naron said in a statement. “The administration will closely review the proposed budget and continue to focus on providing a world-class education for every student in every community.”

The spending plan reflects a difference in budgeting philosophies between the school board, Olszewski and Superintendent Darryl L. Williams.

As the pandemic took an economic toll last spring, the county executive decided against giving public schools any new funds, save for a small increase related to enrollment that the county was required to make by state law.

In January, Williams presented to the board a “modest” budget proposal, reflective of tighter times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered Baltimore County schools since last spring. Enrollment — often the cornerstone in state and local funding formulas — has dropped for county public schools by about 4,000 students this year.

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The school system’s new budget plan is more expensive and reflects a belief among some board members that they should ask the county for everything that schools need, rather than adjusting the plan to fit within expected funds.

Williams’ proposal called for a general fund of $1.67 billion — a 1.8% increase over existing state and county funding. School board members later amended the plan to add more than $71 million in expenditures.

After voting unanimously to approve the budget plan, school board members took an extra step to create a budget committee that will take a deeper dive into the operating and capital budgets throughout the year.

That move follows months of conflict between school board members and county leaders over several high-profile financial decisions. The tension has become more pronounced since the board transitioned to a hybrid model in 2018, with seven elected and four appointed members, along with one student member. School board members were previously appointed by the governor, often based on the county executive’s recommendation.

School board members typically adopt a budget each February. The county executive then has the ability to make cuts before sending it to the Baltimore County Council for final approval.

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