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Baltimore County schools superintendent proposes $1.77B operating budget as enrollment falls by 4,000 students

Baltimore County Schools Superintendent Darryl L. Williams is calling for a $1.77 billion operating budget for the coming school year after enrollment dropped by about 4,000 students across the school system.

Williams presented his proposed budget Tuesday to Baltimore County school board members who will consider revisions to the plan before sending it to the county executive’s desk for approval. The proposal calls for an additional $31 million over the current budget, an increase of 1.8%.

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Williams said his plan reflects tighter times brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic that has shuttered Baltimore County schools since last spring. The additional $31 million in funds would cover “modest” pay increases for existing staff and a boost for special education programs.

A representative for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. declined to comment on the draft budget until finalized by the school board. Board members did not comment on the presentation during their meeting.

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Overshadowing the county school system’s budget discussions this year is a steep drop in enrollment to about 111,000 students — about 4,000 fewer than in the 2019-2020 school year. Most of the declines occurred at the elementary school level, administrators said.

That could have a potentially devastating impact on revenues, since state and local funding formulas typically use enrollment as a cornerstone.

The superintendent contends that the declines are “temporary,” caused by coronavirus pandemic-related school closures. His budget projects that elected leaders will maintain funding for schools based on pre-pandemic enrollment figures. If they don’t, Williams said, the school system’s revenues could drop about $43 million below this academic year’s levels.

Last year, the Baltimore County school board passed a $1.65 billion budget with a $390,000 increase, which came largely from state and federal funding increases. A small increase from the county was required by state law because enrollments had increased.

Williams also pointed out more signs of economic hardship among this year’s student population. The number of children eligible for free and reduced-price meals — often looked to as an indicator of poverty — topped 52%, up from 44% in 2020, he said.

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.

Baltimore Sun reporter Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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