Baltimore County school board members expressed support last night for the compensation increase for teachers and other employees included in Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's proposed budget.
The board met in a work session on the $923 million operating budget Hairston proposed last month.
Member Phyllis Ettinger said she was "delighted" to see an extra $47 million included for salaries and staff benefits. "This puts us at least on the path" to adequately compensating employees at all levels of the system, she said.
Despite a bleak financial picture statewide, Hairston is making the case that increases in salaries, benefits and other compensation are crucial for the school system to attract and retain qualified employees.
His proposal, which represents a 5.4 percent increase over the current budget, does not specify how much of a raise any employee would receive. The school system and its five unions, the largest of which represents teachers, would negotiate the distribution of the $47 million.
Hairston said his budget includes no program cuts, though it does redistribute $14.3 million in existing revenue. Ettinger and member Michael P. Kennedy said they were concerned about $2.5 million being diverted from a program for gifted and talented children.
Hairston said the priority must be on employee compensation, but assured the board that services for the gifted and talented will not be significantly affected.
Hairston's budget includes one new program, costing $1.6 million, that would better track students placed in county schools by courts and other outside agencies.
The budget also would add full-day kindergarten at 10 schools and expand special education inclusion programs at 16 schools.
The school board, which can modify the budget, is scheduled to approve it Feb. 25.
It will then send the spending plan to County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who can make changes before sending it to the County Council for a final vote.
The council can cut the budget, but not add to it.
Smith has said, through a spokeswoman, that he will not comment on the budget until the school board formally submits it to him.
Last year, employees were outraged when Smith cut a cost-of-living increase that the school board had added to Hairston's budget proposal.