Howard County education advocates are assessing the potential impact of last week’s vote by the county school board to advance a $972.7 million spending plan to County Executive Calvin Ball and the County Council — a plan that trimmed about $25.7 million from the initial request by Superintendent Michael Martirano.
The spending request is 15.8 percent larger than this year’s budget, but nevertheless cuts some 264 new positions that Martirano had sought, including many in special education categories. By nixing 142 positions, the board was able to trim nearly $5 million from the special education portion of the budget.
Lori Scott, chair of the Special Education Citizens Advisory Committee, said “it would be nice to see all of our board members support the budget in full for our most vulnerable students.”
Colleen Morris, president of the teacher’s union, said “we… have to be realistic in what the county can afford in one year.”
She said the union appreciates the school board “putting a budget forward that reflects the need of the school system,” and added, “We are optimistic in the fact that we have a county executive that prioritizes education but we also have to be realistic in what the county can afford in one year,” she said.
The spending plan requests $689.3 million from the county, $265.7 million from the state, $385,000 from federal funding and $17.3 million from “other sources.”
The County Council is tasked at approving the overall budget, including education spending. Ball is expected to present his budget by April 22. The council will adopt the final overall budget May 29.
None of the positions cut from the budget plan are existing positions. In his budget proposal, Martirano had proposed more than 500 new positions for mental health, special education, general education and other support positions.
Of those, the reduction of 142 new special education positions include 40 of the 67 student assistant positions that Martirano sought for special education school-based services, 37 of the 47 student assistant positions for birth to age 5 early intervention services, 32.5 of 54 paraeducator early intervention positions, 13 of 44 special education paraeducators and 4.6 of the 6.9 speech pathologist positions, among others.
Scott said for special education there is a need for more behavioral support and training in the classrooms. Without teachers and other staff members trained to handle student’s behavior it becomes “very difficult for our children to stay in the general education classroom.”
Other new positions that were trimmed from the budget request include 16 of 22 social workers, 11 of the 16 school counselors, 10 of the 14 nurses to ensure each school has a nurse, 11 of the 15 health assistants, 10 of the 12 mental health technicians, 12.5 paraeducators for early childhood programs, and 8 new digital education paraeducators and other positions.
One of two proposed hispanic liaison positions was also cut from the budget.
Dr. Thais Moreira, a member of the Latin American Council, Centennial High School’s parent advocacy group, said she was not expecting for the position to be cut.
Moreira, who was part of Ball’s transition team focusing on education, said the position represents “social services type work,” where the liaison helps students with translation, makes sure families have access to things including vaccinations and school supplies. The liaison also checks students to make sure they are attending class.
“It was a surprise to me,” Moreira said. “The percentage in terms of dollar amount that those positions represent is very small in comparison to the whole budget. That was my main surprise … ‘Why cut something that would cost you so little?’”
Cutting the one position will save the school system, $42,840, according to data.
“I know Dr. Ball is an advocate for education and he will fund as much as he can for the school system.” Morris said. “After we get that number we are really hoping that the community pulls together to support what we need.”