The Baltimore County school board last night unanimously approved the proposed $599.2 million operating budget for next school year and refused to make any cuts in it.
Just before last night's vote, board Vice President Calvin Disney suggested to county officials that they may have to raise taxes to get the kind of school system the public is clamoring for.
"These people who have been elected, who say education is their first priority . . . must have the courage to tell the public we need to raise revenue and then we can have the kind of class size the public wants," Mr. Disney said.
He pointed out that $560 million of the proposed budget will be spent on salaries, benefits, utilities and other services to maintain the county's 158 schools.
"If we spent nothing on textbooks, technology or magnet schools, if we took it all for teachers, we would reduce class size by only three students," Mr. Disney explained.
The board would put at least 150 more teachers and teacher aides in the county's elementary school classrooms next year.
To pay for these positions, board members reallocated more than $4 million for 50 to 60 additional teachers and about 100 more instructional assistants to put a dent in class sizes.
The budget would require $36 million more than the county is spending for schools this year. County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said in January that the county could not afford such an increase without raising taxes. Mr. Ruppersberger said he would not do this.
The budget now goes to the county executive and the County Council, which must act on it before June 1.
The school system's request represents 47 percent of county revenue, up from 45 percent this year, officials said.
"We're fully aware of how the county executive feels about the total amount," said board President Paul Cunningham. "We believe we've done a very good job of cutting away as much fat as possible."
The money for the additional teacher and instructional assistant salaries and benefits would come from six budget categories, chosen by Superintendent Stuart Berger and his staff. They
TC include administra tive costs, printing and repair expenses and about $2 million from expected savings in health insurance premiums. Another $1.4 million was moved out of the magnet school/new program allotment of $6.6 million, according to a summary of budget revisions.
"We've got to be creative," said board member Sanford VTeplitzky. "It was clear to me from every public hearing that we've had . . . that people want more teachers. Class size is a consistent theme."
It also has been a consistent theme of the county executive, who made it a campaign pledge and said this year that he wanted the board and Dr. Berger to provide for more teachers in their budget.
In his Jan. 24 proposal, Dr. Berger requested 227 more teachers and 16 more instructional assistants -- enough, he said, to maintain this year's class sizes despite the 3,200 additional students expected next fall. About a dozen of those positions are for new principals and assistant principals.
With the board's addition the classroom staff would grow by about 400 people next year, when enrollment is expected to top 102,000 students. The staff in Dr. Berger's request would be divided among the county's 158 schools, but the board additions would go only to elementary schools, said Mr. Cunningham.
In response to public concerns, Mr. Teplitzky said he has suggested bringing in someone to study the size of the administration and how those people are being used. "I know people are concerned about management, but I don't think it's something to worry about yet," he said.
The board defeated a last-minute motion by board member Dunbar Brooks to cut the budget by $1.14 million designated for already approved magnet school programs. Mr. Brooks said he supported the concept of magnet schools but wanted a moratorium on elementary and middle magnets until the school system develops a strategic plan for its magnet programs. The amendment was defeated 5-4.