Martirano calls $1 billion budget plan for Howard County schools a 'road map' for the future

Jess Nocera
Contact ReporterHoward County Times

Howard County Superintendent Michael Martirano is proposing an operating budget of nearly $1 billion for the next fiscal year, calling it his “road map” to guide the school system into the future.

The $998.4 million budget proposal, unveiled Tuesday as a school board meeting in Ellicott City, is 15.8 percent larger than this year’s spending plan and requests $722.9 million from the county, $257.8 from the state and $17.1 million from additional sources.

“It’s a large amount of money but there's been years of neglect and we need to define that,” Martirano said. “This is my road map now for the next four years.”

Martirano is proposing to fill more than 500 positions for general education, mental health, special education and other support positions.

Martirano has said that a top priority for him has been to support mental health among students, and the proposed budget calls for $10.1 million to fund 126 new mental health positions. Those positions include 22 social workers, 14 nurses to ensure each school has a nurse, 18 psychologists, 15 guidance counselors, 15 health assistants, 12 school mental health technicians, 12 behavioral support teachers and other positions.

“All of these positions are all grounded in the growing crisis around a student’s mental health,” Martirano said. “I’m making an aggressive stance.… I can’t wait to roll it out.”

Martirano also announced that a looming health care fund deficit in the school system has shrunk to $27 million — $10 million less than what was reported just two months ago. The deficit, rooted in an imbalance of the school system’s employee health and dental fund, was reported at $37 million in September.

It shrunk because additional surplus was discovered by auditors, allowing the system to transfer those funds to the deficit, according to Jahantab Siddiqui, chief communications officer for the school system.

In the new budget, Martirano is proposing a one-time request of $27 million to get rid of the deficit once and for all.

“It wasn’t our fault, but it’s my problem …. [and] it’s holding us back from meeting the needs of our students,” Martirano said.

He also said the budget includes “a large number of dollars for compensation.” Martirano is currently bargaining with the various school unions, including the teacher’s union, the administrator's union and the county and municipal employees union.

Colleen Morris, president of the teachers union, said Tuesday that Martirano’s proposal reflected the needs of the school system that “have not been met over the past several years.”

Howard’s 77-school district has nearly 58,000 students and 12,000 full- and part-time staff for the 2018-2019 academic year. The system projects an expected enrollment growth of 850 students across the district for the upcoming academic year.

Officials say the school system’s goal is to not increase class sizes for the 2019-2020 school year. There is no class size increase anticipated in the proposed budget. Last May, the County Council approved a $5.1 million increase to the school system’s proposed budget to avoid increasing class sizes.

Maritrano said he’s looking forward to “very civil and thoughtful conversations” working with school board members on the budget, and with County Executive Calvin Ball and the council, which ultimately approves the school spending plan.

School board chairwoman Mavis Ellis echoed those sentiments, saying the board is looking forward to hearing from the community during public hearings and working with the council.

Hearings on the budget are scheduled for Jan. 15 and Jan. 29 with school board work sessions throughout January. The board is expected to adopt the budget Feb. 12 before it moves to the county executive and County Council.

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Martirano has said he “inherited a school system in crisis,” when he became acting superintendent in May 2017 following the departure of Renee Foose, the former superintendent whose relationships with the school board and some parents had soured.

Howard is “no longer a system in crisis,” Martirano said in his budget letter.

“We’ve come through the chaos, we’ve stabilized and built credibility in the community once again, restoring trust,” he said.Roadblock

jnocera@baltsun.com

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