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Anne Arundel teachers take control at public budget hearing

Nearly 100 Anne Arundel County teachers skipped dinner, called out from second and third jobs, and took a break from grading papers to ask the Board of Education for more money at its first public budget hearing of the new year.

The hearing, the first of two this week, was held at Old Mill High School, which has been on the district’s construction to-do list for more than a decade. Superintendent George Arlotto has requested $10 million to design a new high school, as part of his $172 million recommended capital improvement budget.

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But the superintendent’s proposed $1.26 billion operating budget was the focus of Tuesday night’s meeting. Teachers came to demand money for missed step increases and competitive pay.

Bob Abbott, a music teacher at Crofton Middle School, said he came to ask that school board members invest in teachers the same way they invest in students.

“I’m now taking time off from my fourth job to come to speak to you,” said Abbott, who has been teaching in the county for 18 years. More than 40 percent of Maryland educators have second jobs, according to a survey by the statewide teachers union.

Teachers showed up to the hearing donning the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County’s signature red color. Russell Leone, president of the countywide teachers union, wore an entire red suit.

The superintendent is asking for $35.1 million for compensation increases — $7.5 million to fund the second half of a mid-year step increase and $14 million to fund a full step increase.

The final $13.6 million has been billed as a “compensation placeholder” that bargaining units — like the countywide teachers union — can negotiate to be used for an additional step increase, cost-of-living adjustment or another type of distribution.

“I believe that what Arlotto has asked for is better than what we’ve seen in past years, which gives me hope,” Leone said.

He also called upon County Executive Steuart Pittman and the county council to “look at the whole budget” during deliberations this spring. County government will have the final say on how much money the school district will receive next fiscal year.

Pittman, during his campaign, promised teachers he would make compensation a budget priority.

“We don’t want to take away from firefighters or police,” Leone said. “We do believe there is money that can be utilized for salaries and wages.”

One by one, teachers from schools across the county shared personal stories.

They told stories of missed steps — one teacher is in his 13th year, but is being paid as much as a teacher in their eighth.

Another educator said she’s accumulated more than a semester’s worth of sick days, but refuses to take a day off.

The wife of a music teacher said her husband loans students his personal instruments and spends hundreds of his own money on school supplies.

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And each time a teacher spoke, a sea of red-clad educators rose from their seats.

Issues surrounding students’ access to mental health resources also quickly emerged as a budget priority.

Holly Kleiderlein, who works at Oak Hill Elementary, said she is the only school counselor for 691 students at the school. She said her situation is not unique.

“Elementary school counselors are the only school employees that provide mental health support for all students,” Kleiderlein said. “Please ask for what we actually need, which is far more than seven.”

Arlotto’s proposed budget includes a $1.4 million allocation to hire seven school counselors, three psychologists and three social workers.

Educators from Arlington Echo Outdoor Education Center also lined up to ask the board expand its environmental literacy program.

Many in attendance also thanked Arlotto and the board for supporting various programs and initiatives across the district. A group of Old Mill Middle School students thanked the board for protecting their STEM program.

School officials will host another public budget hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday at the Board of Education’s Parham building on Riva Road.

Parents, students, teacher and other members of the community are invited to make suggestions.

Following the public hearings, the board on Jan. 15 will hold a budget workshop. Members will approve the fiscal 2020 budget on Feb. 20.

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