Joseph A. Schmitz got his first glimpse of the rigorous International Baccalaureate program during a visit to Milford Mill Academy in Baltimore County two years ago. The Edgewood High School principal saw students who analyzed and debated course material in a sophisticated way, rather than simply scribbling notes from a chalkboard.
"It would give [students] the background to jump into college with both feet and not struggle like most freshmen do," Schmitz, now in his fourth year as principal at Edgewood, said of the IB program. Harford County school officials have included initial funding for an IB program in their proposed 2005-2006 operating budget, unveiled last week.
For years, school administrators have talked about bringing IB to Harford County, only to conclude that they didn't have the money. But as part of the $339 million spending plan before the school board, Superintendent Jacqueline C. Haas has included money to hire a teacher to get the program started -- part of a broader effort to bring more magnet programs to the county.
The program would cost a lot more than the $75,000 Haas has proposed for the teacher. But a teacher would be the first step in bringing IB to Edgewood High, which is viewed as having enough space to offer a countywide magnet. The IB would not begin until the 2006-2007 school year, Haas said.
The superintendent said that the school system makes a significant effort to accommodate students with learning and other disabilities, as is required by law, and that more attention could be paid to programs, such as IB, for high-achieving students.
The proposal, though small, comes at a time when school officials are more confident about the county's approving expenditures because of a perceived revival of the economy.
Haas is proposing a 14 percent increase in overall spending, her biggest proposed increase since she took office seven years ago. The biggest expenditure, $18 million, would cover salary increases for teachers and the addition of 162 teaching positions.
Haas said her budget would address long-standing needs that have gone unfunded during the past several years. And she is well aware, she said, that the county has not approved an operating budget increase of more than 7 percent in one year since 1995.
"There's always the battle between: Do you state the case for what you need as a system, or do you state the case for what you think you can get?" Haas said. "Our needs are our needs."
Haas also is seeking a $6 million increase in the budget for operations and maintenance, to cover utility bills that have skyrocketed with the rise in international prices of oil and natural gas. Her other big expenditures are $7.4 million more for human resources and a $2.8 million increase for special education.
Under the superintendent's plan, county taxpayers would cover $25.5 million of the $42 million proposed in increased spending.
Harford County officials say it's too early to discuss the school budget, which won't be submitted to County Executive James M. Harkins until it has been voted on by the school board at a Jan. 24 meeting. But officials say they are more optimistic than they have been in recent years.
"The economic climate that we're coming into and the increase in revenues we're seeing certainly are much better than we've had" since the 1990s, said John J. O'Neill Jr., the county's director of administration.