The Baltimore County school board was encouraged to maintain the pay raises in the proposed operating budget for the 2010 fiscal year during a public hearing last night.
About 50 people attended the hearing, which took place at Ridge Ruxton School in Towson. Among the 20 or so who addressed the board, a theme emerged:
Even in tough economic times, employees deserve - and need - a salary increase, which would also help keep teachers in the county instead of seeking higher pay elsewhere.
"We do commend the superintendent for looking at salary increases for employees," said Cheryl Bost, the teachers union president, expressing a sentiment echoed by district employees and others throughout the evening. "We're looking to [the board] to make sure that that money stays in the budget."
Superintendent Joe A. Hairston presented the $1.32 billion spending plan to the board Tuesday night. It includes nearly $23.5 million for pay raises for employees, as well as $11.6 million for step increases. The proposal calls for an increase of nearly 6 percent, or about $74 million, over the current budget, according to school system documents.
County budget officials will work with their school system counterparts once the board acts on the spending plan, said Donald I. Mohler III, a county spokesman.
A County Council committee is expected to develop "spending affordability guidelines" - a rate of growth for the following year's budget - for the county by the end of the month, Mohler said, a step that will be "the key in this."
"Once county officials have that guideline established, then we have a better understanding of what we will be able to do in the upcoming budget," Mohler said, adding that they had yet to see Hairston's proposal as of yesterday afternoon.
Although Hairston has not proposed new programs, there are about 100 new positions - a figure that includes six additional instructors for English language learners and 42 teaching positions to account for enrollment growth.
Last night, some parents also called for updating older schools with the kind of technology the newer buildings have.
"I'm appalled at the disparity among the schools in this county," said Janine Kucik, a Westowne Elementary parent. The Catonsville school doesn't have the amenities of the newly opened Vincent Farm Elementary, she and others said, such as a TV studio, mobile computer labs and LCD projectors in every classroom.
At Tuesday's board meeting, Hairston indicated that the requested funds for salary increases represent his making good on a commitment last year to put the school system in the best position to pursue such raises this time around.
Throughout the past year, the teachers union has protested the current budget's lack of anything more than step increases.
A board work session on the budget is set for 6:30 p.m. Jan. 27. The board is expected to adopt a spending plan Feb. 10.