Balto. County schools to consider 'very lean budget'

The Baltimore Sun

Teacher pay increases and the struggling economy are among the issues that some hope will be addressed in the Baltimore County schools superintendent's budget for the next fiscal year.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston is scheduled to present his operating budget for the 2009-2010 school year to the Board of Education on Tuesday.

"This is an extremely challenging economic time," said Donald I. Mohler III, a spokesman for County Executive James T. Smith Jr.

"The county executive has been very direct in telling his department heads, and then sharing with the [school] board that we've instructed county departments to submit maintenance budgets. ... This is not a time for new programs and new initiatives."

While the county will not be facing layoffs or furloughs this year or next, Mohler said, "clearly, in this economic climate, it is going to be a very, very lean budget, and I don't think that will come as a surprise."

Barbara Burnopp, the district's chief financial officer, has said the school system has tried to be "very focused" in its thoughts, knowing the uncertainty surrounding revenues. The current budget stands at more than $1 billion.

Teachers union President Cheryl Bost said she hopes to see pay increases for teachers in the school system's operating budget. Schools also need additional clerical assistance, she added.

The pay raises have been a continuing source of conflict.

Last year, school and county officials said budget constraints did not allow for providing teachers more than step increases. In response, teachers launched a work-to-rule job action.

More recently, they protested the school board's rejection of a mediation panel recommendation to give teachers a 2 percent cost-of-living increase at the end of the school year.

Last spring, school officials said they would focus on securing such raises in the next budget cycle.

"Scheduled salary increments for all employees" was one of the items included among the district's top needs for the next budget, a list presented to school board members during a work session last month.

Retaining jobs, preserving programs and services for children, and providing startup costs for a new elementary school in Towson were some of the other needs listed.

"Receiving nothing [last year] has made us fall even further behind other jurisdictions," Bost said, referring to the recruitment and retention of staff.

"Our top priority is salary increases to start moving back up to become competitive and work to retain teachers."

Tuesday's board meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. A hearing on the proposed budget is to be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Ridge Ruxton School in Towson.

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