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Dance announces $1.74 billion operating budget for Baltimore County public schools

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dallas Dance announced Wednesday night a $1.74 billion Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget request that includes increases for salary and benefits for personnel and funds for additional staff to meet the needs of a growing school system.

The request reflects a $75.2 million increase in expenditures over the Fiscal Year 2015 budget. It is 6.5 percent above the maintenance of effort requirement, a state law that local jurisdictions must provide funds for education, Dance said during the Board of Education meeting in Towson.

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"We're looking at, over the next 10 years, roughly 7,600 additional students," Dance said in a briefing before the budget was announced at the public meeting. "Of course, with additional students we have to add teachers, additional supports and seats."

The increase of 11.5 percent over the FY 2015 adjusted operating budget is largely due to capital spending, according to the budget proposal.

The proposed FY 2016 capital budget calls for $147.6 million and includes approximately 130 construction projects.

The bulk of that is allocated to projects in the southwest portion of the county and includes replacement schools at Relay and Westowne elementary schools, the replacement of Catonsville Elementary with a renovation of the Bloomsbury Community Center and a 200-seat addition to Westchester Elementary.

The proposal calls for funding 84 additional full-time positions, 26 of which will be needed for a new elementary school opening in the northwest area, Dance said.

In addition, counselors will be added to 13 elementary schools that will have more than 700 students next year, to ensure that they have at least two on staff, he said.

Eighty-four percent of the operating fund expenditures go toward employee salaries and benefits. The request includes an increase of $42.3 million from last year for employee compensation with cost of living adjustments, which comprises 91.5 percent of the increase above maintenance of effort, Dance said during the school board meeting.

In order to roll out the second phase of Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT), an initiative to transform schools into a 21st century learning environment, Dance requested $13.6 million to expand the digital conversion to all elementary schools for first, second and third grades.

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The digital conversion is currently being piloted in 10 elementary schools: Chase, Church Lane, Edmondson Heights, Fort Garrison, Halstead, Hawthorne, Joppa View, Lansdowne, Mays Chapel and Rodgers Forge.

In the second phase, the digital conversion will also be expanded to fourth and fifth grades in these 10 Lighthouse schools, Dance said.

Approximately $10 million is requested for books, digital content and other curriculum materials to support new English, math and science standards, Dance said.

Last year, the school system added 200 seats to its pre-kindergarten program, which currently serves 3,000 students. The expansion was funded by a state grant and additional seats were added to Riverview, Sandalwood, Timber Grove, Mays Chapel, McCormick, Hernwood, Glyndon and Perry Hall Elementary schools, in addition to Campfield Early Learning Center.

Dance said the school system wants to maintain the program and will need $600,000 and 15.5 full-time employees to do so. However, there are no plans for further expansion of the program because of the uncertainty regarding the grant's availability next year, Dance said.

Dance also requested funds for English for Speakers of Other Languages students in the proposal, a population that has grown almost 200 percent over the past 10 years in the county, he said.

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"We have not kept pace with the staffing to support the needs of this population," Dance said. "We don't even have a separate office in our school system to support it."

The school system is monitoring the feeder patterns for Lansdowne, Dulaney and Owings Mills high schools, where the ESOL population is higher than in other parts of the county, Dance said. The elementary and middle schools that feed into those high schools also have a high number of ESOL students, he said.

The county will be looking to other Maryland counties, such as Montgomery, as well as Fairfax County in Virginia, that have adjusted staffing to meet the needs of that student population, Dance said.

Apublic hearing on the budget proposal will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 13, at 7 p.m at West Towson Elementary School, 6914 West Charles Street. A snow day is scheduled for Jan. 14.

The Board of Education will vote to adopt the budget on Feb. 3. Once approved by the school board, the budget will be reviewed by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Feb. 27.

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