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Howard schools superintendent applauds Kirwan recommendations but also expresses concern about challenges

Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano sent a letter to the Howard County delegation earlier this week applauding the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations for increasing public education in Maryland but also citing potential challenges the county could face.

The Blueprint For Maryland’s Future legislation, also known as the Kirwan bill, is a $4 billion annual plan to expand education reform in the state. The legislation has been spearheaded by the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, named after William “Brit” Kirwan, a former University System of Maryland chancellor.

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“This is an exciting opportunity to improve education delivery across our state and provide equitable resources and services for all students,” Martirano wrote in the Tuesday letter obtained by the Howard County Times.

“It is critical for all school districts to expand the current level of support for our students and staff and implement the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission,” he wrote.

The Kirwan Commission’s report calls for additional programs, such as expanding prekindergarten to more students, enhanced standards and higher salaries for teachers, improved college- and career-prep programs in high schools, and more support for schools with high concentrations of students from poor families. It also would make the starting salary for teachers $60,000 a year.

The programs come with a steep price tag: Over a decade, the cumulative increase to the state’s public schools would total about $32 billion.

Martirano’s seven-page letter broke down potential challenges as a result of the legislation into two categories: those specific to Howard County and broader ones that could impact the county.

Specific Howard challenges outlined include lack of local aid increases in conjunction with yearly budget pressures, local funding for teacher salary increases, salary increases for “non-teachers” — which include paraeducators, school administration, security, maintenance, counselors and psychologists — dual enrollment costs for students to access opportunities at Howard Community College and administrative costs.

With the budget process, the school system is concerned that without receiving increases in county funding, implementing the recommended additional programs could require areas of the school system’s budget to be reduced.

By July 1, 2024, school systems need to increase teachers’ salaries by 10%. The increase will require local funding, but there is no condition in Kirwan that requires an increase from localities, Martirano wrote.

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The school system is recommending for the delegation to support the mandated increases in local aid, supplement state funding to execute Kirwan Commission recommendations and include a provision that allows for state funding to be used for school system administrative costs.

Overarching challenges include but are not limited to: a new state education mandated financial management system; closing gaps in the career ladder; employing more teachers; maintaining a 10-to-1 staffing level; pre-K administrative costs; limited building capacity to accommodate shifting half-day pre-K programs to full day; and limiting local control by creating a Career and Technical Oversight Body “that can dictate the local system’s policies and courses [which] would take away significant local control,” the letter states.

“I encourage you to review the challenges we have outlined and the possible recommendations to allow for [the] implementation of these priorities without creating more challenges for school districts,” Martirano wrote.

Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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