Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl L. Williams’ $1.72 billion operating budget is an improvement over prior years, but it doesn’t do enough to support teachers, students from low-income families, or magnet programs, teachers and parents said Tuesday night during a public comment hearing on the fiscal 2020-2021 operating budget proposed last week.
Williams is asking for an extra $114.9 million over the fiscal 2019-2020 operating budget, including an 11% increase in county funding.
While the hike in requested funding is meant to add more than 360 teachers for an understaffed school system, and fund over $53 million in increases to benefits and salaries, Cindy Sexton, the president of the teachers union, said that funding was “insufficient" to attract new teachers, retain existing ones, and support the 500 teachers who have worked in the county school system for over 30 years.
“This budget, while taking critical ... steps on staffing, does not do what we need it to do,” Sexton said. “What we need is fair pay and more planning time.”
Sexton and other teachers asked the board to consider supporting longevity funding, paying teachers on step 30 and above an additional $2,000 each, educator Crystal Collins said.
Collins, who has been a teacher in the county school system for 32 years, said that for the past few years her “salary has been frozen" despite existing step increases, which she said are absorbed by rising health care costs.
Baltimore County ranks 12th in the state for educator pay, Sexton said.
“How can we retain educators who can choose to earn hundreds of thousands more over their careers by simply crossing the county line?” she said. “This budget grants higher raises to administrators than to educators.”
Sexton said she also wants to see more time added to the school day for teacher planning.
Speakers also advocated for more funding for school magnet programs, particularly for the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, which is seeing “dwindling support” in funding from the school system, Carver Center Foundation President Claire Carberry said.
Carberry said the per-pupil funding at the magnet school needs to be restored to $186 per student, the level it was in 2014. Since then, there has been a per-pupil decrease of 40%, she said. Foundation volunteers are tasked with closing that gap and must raise $40 per student “just to fill the gap to meet the needs," she said.
For low-income students, Laurie Taylor-Mitchell, founder and president of the nonprofit Student Support Network, said $1 million allocated in the 2019-20 school budget to expand school food programs has “still not been spent,” she said.
Taylor-Mitchell asked the school board to fund an expansion of the school breakfast program and the Community Eligibility Provision, which provides a free meal service option for schools in low-income areas, at an estimated cost of $726,000 a year for 17 eligible schools “that are not currently participating," she said.
Efforts being made to “improve teaching and learning can set a magnificent stage for education in our system,” she said, but for 50,000 county students “living in severe poverty ... the lack of sufficient food in school is a serious threat to achieving your goals."
“I hate to be greedy, but we still need more,” teacher Erica Mah said. “I wish we could say that teaching is our priority, as it should be — but it is no longer. Our priority has become the social, emotional and physical welfare of our students.”
Although Williams’ budget would add an additional two nurses, five social workers, five psychologists and 10 counselors, more are needed to address students with behavioral problems, which “are making it difficult to teach,” Mah said.
"We need not only personnel, but behavioral plans, real consequences and resources to help these children,” she said.