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Tears were shed and applause and cheers filled the room when the Howard County Board of Education approved restoring a number of elementary and middle school paraeducator positions, as well as reading, math and math instructional support teachers that had been on the chopping block.

The school board unanimously adopted a $894.2 million operating budget for fiscal 2020 on June 6.

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“I’m so excited we were able to pass the budget,” said school board Chairwoman Mavis Ellis. “Very happy this evening to add back in a number of paraeducators, RSTs [reading support teachers], MSTs [math support teachers] and MISTs [math instructional support teachers], so those programs are not diluted, because those folks work with our neediest students.”

The approved operating budget includes fully funding negotiation agreements for all bargaining units, no class size increases and no increase to the $37 million health care deficit rooted in the school system’s employees health and dental fund. In 2011, the fund started to be underfunded and five years later in 2016, it began showing a deficit.

During a lengthy work session June 3, the school board voted to eliminate 88 paraeducator positions, including elementary paraeducators, and middle school math and reading paraeducators. Originally, 104 positions were to be cut, but the school board found savings elsewhere to salvage 16 positions.

In opening remarks June 6, schools Superintendent Michael Martirano proposed saving an additional 14 paraeducators at a cost of $400,000.

Going into the early hours of Tuesday morning, the Howard County Board of Education balanced its upcoming fiscal $607.2 million operating budget.

In a 6-1 vote June 6, the school board approved Martirano’s recommendation to save a total of 30 paraeducators. In the end, 74 paraeducator positions across elementary and middle school levels were cut.

Last week, Martirano stressed he was not proposing layoffs.

“Any staff impacted will be surplussed and placed in another HCPSS position,” he said.

Ahead of the vote, Martirano said an additional $3.3 million was identified when the school system’s payroll system calculation of salary costs was “less than what was originally estimated,” and a $400,000 budget request for transportation software was incorrectly counted twice.

Besides restoring paraeducator positions, Martirano also proposed for the school board to restore the $800,000 to the workers’ compensation fund and restore 10 elementary school reading support teachers, 10 math support teachers and six secondary math instructional support teachers.

On Monday, the school board had approved removing 21.6 elementary school reading support teachers, 21.6 math support teachers and 16 secondary math instructional support teachers.

The school board unanimously approved restoring the support teachers and, in a 5-2 vote, approved restoring the workers’ comp funding.

“As superintendent, it is my responsibility to stretch our budget to its maximum limit and continue the important work our reading and math support teachers and paraeducators do every day,” Martirano said.

Of its $894.2 million operating budget, the school board adopted funding in the amount of $607.2 million from the county, $269.3 million from the state, $385,000 in federal funding and $17.3 million from “other sources.”

The school board had approved a $972.7 million spending plan in February that sought $689.3 from the county, $265.7 million from the state, $385,000 in federal funding and $17.3 million from “other sources.”

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In May, the County Council approved the school system’s operating budget, adding in $2 million of a potential $8 million increase, bringing the grand total to $607.2 million. The additional $2 million will be spent with $1.3 million to direct instruction and $700,000 toward raising substitute teacher pay and funding transportation software.

An Ellicott City elementary school principal sent an email Monday to its school community to address “a threatening statement” that was made.

A motion failed 4-3 to move the $300,000 proposed for substitute teacher pay to be used to salvage an additional 10 to 11 paraeducators.

“This is a unique budget year that has presented some extremely difficult decisions,” Martirano said. “We are spending every dollar we possibly can in order to meet our obligations and pass a balanced budget.”

Other final, approved cuts in the fiscal 2020 operating budget include:

  • $6.56 million in reductions in central office spending and hiring freeze
  • $1.5 million in utility reductions
  • $1.1 million in reducing elementary technology teachers from 62 to 42
  • $1.1 million in reductions of information technology, will delay technology security and other projects and reduce the number of computers purchased for new educator orientations
  • $700,000 in additional salary reductions of administrative, management and technical employees
  • $700,000 in reducing pool positions from 40 to 30 — money that can be used to hire additional staff if there is increased school enrollment or unanticipated needs at any grade level
  • $500,000 in reduction of materials of instruction, including calculators, art supplies, music equipment, etc.
  • $350,000 in further reducing pool positions from 30 to 25, place savings toward paraeducators
  • $269,460 in print services reductions, with the savings going to the fund balance
  • $200,000 in reduction of central office positions
  • $150,000 in additional reductions to print services, including moving printed calendars, student folders, HR/recruitment materials, W-2s, etc. online
  • Hold salaries for AMT employees and non-bargaining unit employees who earn $125,000 and above

The school board also approved Monday to not cut any teacher staffing in the elementary school instrumental programs or from the Gifted and Talented programs. GT programs, offered at all grade levels, “provides accelerated and enriched services for advanced-level learners,” according to the school system’s website.

In other business, the school board unanimously approved its fiscal 2020 $54.6 million capital budget, $654.6 million capital improvement program for 2021-25, and the 2020-29 $1.12 billion long-range master plan budget.

The fiscal year begins July 1.

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