The Baltimore County teachers union, angered by a budget proposal that it says squeezes schools and takes away raises, said it is planning a series of protests that would begin next week.
“My folks are really angry,” said Abby Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County. “I am angry that teachers have not been given the tools we need to do the work.”
Teachers expected the county and state to find the needed dollars, Beytin said.
“It can’t always be on the back of teachers,” she said.
Teachers are planning to show up for a protest at the next school board meeting Feb. 5.
Teachers aren’t the only ones expressing concern about a revised budget that Interim Schools Superintendent Verletta White presented at the school board meeting late Tuesday night, saying she had done it at the direction of School Board Chair Kathleen Causey. Parents and principals also expressed their disappointment at the revised budget.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. told school board members Tuesday night that the county could not afford the school system’s first budget proposal, which would have increased funding overall by 7.5 percent. The $1.6 billion request also would have asked the county to fund $91 million more than it is required to do so by state law, a significantly larger request than it has gotten in previous years.
At the time, White said the school system needed to hire more teachers, particularly because of a sharp increase in the number of students who need special services, such as those who don’t speak English as their first language and those identified for special education.
But after a letter from Olszewski to the school board, White said she was slashing the budget by $85 million, including eliminating raises for all employees and some teaching positions she had hoped to add to lower class sizes. She also eliminated a proposal to add 15 minutes to the school day, as the state has been urging the county to do for many years. That would cost about $23 million because it would require teachers to be paid for that time.
“She stands by the first budget she put forth,” said Mychael Dickerson, White’s chief of staff.
White has said that budget represents what she believes the school system needs, at a bare minimum.
The budget announcement, made shortly before 11 p.m. at the school board meeting, caught many off guard.
“We were disappointed to hear that the plans originally put forth … were pulled back,” said Jayne Lee, president of the Baltimore County Council of Parent Teacher Associations.
She said parents would rather see cuts to the laptop program in kindergarten through second grade so that money could be freed up to hire more people.
Parents, she said, are also deeply concerned about the county’s decision to delay building new high schools until state money is available. If the state does not fund Olszewski’s request of $100 million in state money each year for five years, she said, the county’s new high schools will be put off far into the future.
Principals also expressed concern about the new budget.
“Certainly, no cost-of-living increase is not going to be acceptable to us,” said Tom DeHart, executive director of the union representing principals, known as the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees.
“I would like to think that this isn’t a done deal yet,” DeHart said. “I think there will be quite a bit of discussion over the next several weeks to hammer something out.”
If not, he said, it might be time for Olszewski to consider alternatives.
“The taxes haven’t been raised in 25 years, so I think they are going to have to do one or the other,” DeHart said.
He believes the outcry from employees and parents might change the discussion.
“I think it is fair enough to say that what he has shared will certainly raise enough consternation with the masses that he might have to do that,” DeHart said.
County Council Chairman Tom Quirk, an Oella Democrat, said he was not surprised by the situation.
Quirk said the county’s Spending Affordability Committee, which he chairs, has been trying to sound the alarm. Last year, the committee’s annual report warned that the county’s financial outlook “presents immense challenges that the next Administration and Council will be forced to address, whether by cutting spending … or by raising revenues.”
“I think the fiscal reality is setting in now,” Quirk said. “It’s definitely a challenging time.”
Olszewski said in a statement Thursday that the county is committed to supporting educators as it faces these budget constraints.
“We should prioritize our spending in a way that reflects that commitment,” he said through his spokesman T.J. Smith. “I plan on meeting with labor leaders and marching alongside advocates in Annapolis because we are all in this together.”
Beytin warned that if the current proposal is adopted, it would violate the union contract, which requires the county to give teachers pay increases based on their years of service — so-called step increases.
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County teachers had negotiated a 2 percent pay increase with former County Executive Kevin Kamenetz before his death last year. The increase was to take effect at the beginning of the school year last summer, but instead Kamenetz asked whether they would be willing to put it off until this month if they were given a 3 percent increase instead. Beytin said teachers agreed, but under the latest budget, that increase would expire at the end of December, essentially giving teachers a pay cut at the beginning of 2020.