The Board of Education unanimously approved yesterday a $552 million operating budget for next year that includes higher salaries for entry-level teachers and signing bonuses for teachers in hard-to-fill areas.
Board members praised the fiscal 2001 budget submitted by Superintendent Carol S. Parham, calling it "child-centered."
At its meeting, the board added $2.5 million to Parham's proposal, including money to give teachers in the home and hospital program their first raise in 20 years.
The increase also funds a reorganization and expansion of the school system's facilities and planning department, and a salary increase for the system's midlevel managers and executive staff.
"I think [the $552 million is] more than appropriate to address the needs of children in Anne Arundel County," said board member Michael J. McNelly of the approved budget. "I'm extremely pleased with the recruitment [of teachers] and retention efforts."
"But in today's atmosphere, and the crisis we will face again and again and again in recruiting, this can't be just a one-shot deal," he said. "We'll have to revisit this several times in the future if we're to compete with other jurisdictions."
The board will send the approved budget to County Executive Janet S. Owens. She will forward her spending plan to the County Council, which must adopt a budget by the end of May.
The budget includes $1.8 million to boost the starting salary for teachers -- by $1,700 -- to $29,000. With the 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment approved for all teachers, the entry-level salary will top $30,000.
The spending plan includes $380,000 for up to 300 signing bonuses for teachers in special education, math, science and reading who make a three-year commitment to the school system.
The board unanimously approved $660,000 to provide a raise -- to $25 an hour -- for the home and hospital program teachers and to provide more planning time for those teachers.
Teachers in the home and hospital program visit students temporarily unable to attend school for medical reasons.
The board cut an alternative program for home and hospital students that school officials said would have yielded a savings of $64,000 by teaching students in small groups.
Board members said that an alternative school program should be broadened to include expelled students and those on extended suspension.
"The board asks every expelled student, 'What have you done since you left school,' " said board member Carlesa Finney. "There is nothing out there for them to do."
Board members wrestled with whether to add $200,000 to the budget for salary increases for midlevel managers and executives.
"If we don't do this, we're going to be leaving segments of our employee base significantly behind," Finney said.
By a 6-to-1 vote, the board included money for the raises.
Other budget highlights include funding for 55 new teachers to keep pace with enrollment growth; 10 new teachers to continue an initiative aimed at reducing first-grade classes to 20 pupils; and 19 reading teachers, one for each middle school.
The board approved a $103 million capital budget after discussion of the new Seven Oaks Elementary School and the possibility of a new west county high school.
Board member Vaughn Brown's proposal to begin planning the Seven Oaks Elementary School in 2003 instead of 2006, failed to win approval.
However, the board did agree to move a review of the need for a West County high school from 2005 to 2004.
"It's a move in a positive direction," said Sharon Puckett, a supporter of building a high school. "With the new growth in the area, the need will become dire in the next two years."