Balto. Co. school budget details get the spotlight

The Baltimore Sun

Poring over the proposed operating budget last night for the next fiscal year, Baltimore County school board members zeroed in on the details: Funds allocated for educational programs. Music instruction. Online learning materials.

"There's not a lot of money, and we only have a little tiny bit of discretionary" [funds], board member Meg O'Hare said, explaining her in-depth questions on the $1.32 billion proposed spending plan.

The board's work session came nearly a week after the governor presented his proposed budget, which would cut almost $70 million in state funding for local schools. That announcement was another sign of the economic situation that school systems throughout the state have been trying to contend with as they prepare budgets.

Superintendent Joe A. Hairston said he was following the funding situation closely.

"We're fairly stable at this point at the local level," he said. "The sky isn't completely clear yet, but it's not raining."

Last night, Barbara Burnopp, the school district's chief financial officer, described the fluctuating financial picture to the board. Burnopp emphasized that school officials had to "make certain revenue assumptions" in the proposed budget.

"Those revenue assumptions are now shifting," she said, referring to suggested state cuts of about $8 million to county schools, a possible shift of pension costs to local governments and other potential cuts in money for aging schools and other items.

"We do not know if the revenue assumptions that we have in the budget that was proposed will hold solid through the end of the state session," Burnopp said.

Still, she added, "the budget that you have before you is reasonable, taking into account the fact that those factors are all churning around us."

Hairston's proposed operating budget includes nearly $23.5 million for pay raises and $11.6 million for step increases.

The proposal represents a nearly 6 percent increase, or about $74 million, over the current budget.

The board is expected to adopt a budget Feb. 10.

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