Going into the early hours Tuesday morning, the Howard County Board of Education balanced its $607.2 million operating budget for the upcoming fiscal year, including a decision that may cut 88 paraeducators, a majority of which would be from elementary schools.
The school board will take its final vote and adopt the operating budget Thursday afternoon. No decisions about the budget are final until its ratified.
The school board discussed Monday an updated list of recommended cuts from Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano.
With the current decisions made, the budget fully funds negotiation agreements for all bargaining units, and includes no class size increases and no increase to the $37 million health care deficit concerning the school system’s employees health and dental fund, which has run a deficit since 2011.
However, the school board voted to reduce elementary paraeducators from 216 to 132, eliminated 15 middle school math paraeducators and five reading paraeducators.
In total, 88 paraeducator positions were eliminated after the school board found savings through other cuts during the work session to salvage 16 of the positions. The school board approved applying $456,000 in cost savings to paraeducators and to “consider achievement gap, opportunity gap and socioeconomic status,” when deciding which schools to place the paraeducators in.
School board chairwoman Mavis Ellis stressed throughout the night her disappointment in the cut of paraeducators.
“The biggest cut that has been put on the table is for our paraeducators who work with our neediest students … we are talking about cutting hundreds of thousands of dollars of support for the neediest children,” Ellis said. “I’m sitting here outraged, I’m sitting here outraged.”
Martirano stressed in opening remarks that he is not proposing layoffs.
“I want to state clearly that no option includes layoffs or [reductions in force],” Martirano said. “Any staff impacted will be surplussed and placed in another HCPSS position.”
Martirano also said he was not recommending any cuts in teacher staffing for the music or Gifted and Talented programs. GT programs “provides accelerated and enriched services for advanced-level learners” at all grade levels, according to the school system’s website.
Early in the meeting, the school board unanimously approved a motion to not reduce any elementary instrumental teachers, a move that received applause and cheers from the audience, many of whom who were wearing bright green, pink or yellow stickers saying “Music Matters.” A motion later on in the meeting passed, 5-2, in not making cuts to GT staff.
The County Council approved the school system’s $607.2 million operating budget last week. The council also approved a $48.5 million capital budget for the school system.
The council added $2 million, of a potential $8 million increase, to the schools operating budget. In April, County Executive Calvin Ball proposed a $605.2 million operating budget for Howard schools — $84 million less than the school board’s request.
The County Council said last week the additional $2 million would give $1.3 million to direct instruction and an additional $700,000 toward raising substitute teacher pay and funding transportation software.
Mark Blom, general counsel for the school system, said that while the County Council approved the additional funding, “they stated a preference or a request,” and it’s up to the school board to decide whether to use those funds in the ways the council saw best fit.
Ellis made a motion to take the $700,000 away from raising substitute teacher pay and funding transportation software, and instead move it into funding for paraeducators. The motion failed.
Motions passed later in the meeting to approve using the council’s additional funds toward raising substitute teacher pay by $5 a day and for transportation software.
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Martirano’s list looks to trim the budget by nearly $33.3 million, $14 million of that cut coming from the council’s $2 million addition and using one-time revenue of $12 million in the school system’s fund balance, which would start the school system’s fiscal 2021 budget in a $12 million deficit.
The fund balance is the difference between the school system’s assets and liabilities, according to a schools spokesman. The fund balance can also be referred to as the reserve fund, where monies are held to deal with unanticipated situations.
“I just want our County Executive and County Council people to know by doing this we are depleting our reserves to a critical level that if anything happens, catastrophic or unexpected, we will need to come to you for a supplemental budget,” school board member Jen Mallo said.
The school board approved Martirano’s recommendation of spending the $12 million in one-time funds.
From there, the school board was left with making decisions of nearly $19.3 million in potential cuts.
Other approved motions in cuts:
- $6.56 million in reductions in central office spending and hiring freeze
- $3.7 million in removing 21.6 elementary school reading support teachers and 21.6 math support teachers and 16 secondary math instructional support teachers
- $2.01 million in reducing elementary paraeducators from 216 to 132
- $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
- $800,000 in fixed charged reduction in Workers Compensation Fund for fund balance usage
- $700,000 in additional salary reductions of administrative, management and technical, AMT, 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.
- $360,000 in removing 15 middle school math paraeducators
- $350,000 in further reducing pool positions from 30 to 25, place savings toward paraeducators
- $269,460 in print services reductions, use savings in 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
- $120,000 in removing middle school reading paraeducators
- Hold salaries for AMT employees who earn $125,000 and above. Non-bargaining unit employees
The school board will vote on approval its operating, capital and capital improvement program budgets at 4 p.m. Thursday.