In a rare show of unity at the Baltimore County school board meeting Tuesday night, dozens of parents, teachers and administrators encouraged the school board to ask for what students need rather than accept the slimmed-down budget that meets the county executive’s fiscal limits.
A revision to the budget proposal two weeks ago has been criticized for its failure to provide pay raises for school employees and for not providing the schools with enough teachers at a time when enrollment is increasing.
Parents and administrators said county schools have been underfunded for years, and some suggested that the county executive raise taxes if necessary.
“We simply can’t expect to continue to provide the quality services to a growing and increasingly complex student body if funding doesn’t keep pace,” said Tom DeHart, executive director of the union representing principals, known as the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees. “It is time that tax rates, either property or income, be increased as they haven’t been in 25 years.”
Parent Yara Cheikh said she wants the board to go to the County Council to argue for more money.
“Be a leader. … Make the case to our county. Raise taxes to give our students and our teachers what they need,” she said.
Ed Vait, a resident, said he believes it is up to the school board to sell the budget to the county executive and others.
“You have been elected to this office. You weren’t elected by the County Council or the county executive,” he said.
PTA President Jayne Lee asked the board to hand over a budget that parents want.
“If the county executive decides to make a cut, let it be him, not you,” she said.
Before the meeting, a large crowd of teachers and other school employees gathered outside the board’s administration building in Towson to protest the proposed budget cuts. Dressed in red, teachers at the union rally said the budget shouldn’t be balanced by cutting teacher salaries and classroom funding.
“Education is under attack, everybody must fight back,” they chanted as they headed into the board meeting.
Several school board members questioned staff about the possibility of saving money by cutting back on the number of laptops, so that not every student is given a device, as is the case this year. School board member Lisa Mack said student achievement has not been increasing at a rate that would justify the expenditure of millions of dollars on laptops.
“Nothing helps more than having small classes, enough teachers to meet children’s needs,” she said. The data “is not showing me that the investment we made … is paying off.”
Administrators pushed back on the idea of reducing the laptop initiative more than is proposed next year.
“It is dangerous to make it an either-or situation,” said Interim Superintendent Verletta White, adding that students should get both the resources and tools they need as well as the teachers they need.
Saying that she believes her original budget proposal, which asked for an 11.2 percent increase in funding, was the budget the board should approve, White answered numerous board questions, while defending the school system’s positions. Board members asked for some additional money, including more funding for air conditioning, and for providing more free meals to students.
The board did not take a vote on the budget or make it clear which budget they might pass on to the county council and the county executive. A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, and a vote will be held Feb. 19.