The Howard County Board of Education is grappling with a list of potential cuts that would trim the proposed operating budget for fiscal 2020.
Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano recommended a series of possible cuts to the school board at a work session May 8. The board had requested the list.
It includes not paying down the school system’s employees health and dental fund, which has run a deficit since 2011, increasing that deficit from $37 million to $44 million; eliminating central office positions; having a spending and hiring freeze; decreasing elementary technology teaching positions from 62 to 42, but adding three media specialists; cutting the amount of elementary school music teachers from 52 to 26; and reducing monies in information technology, among others.
“Nowhere in any of the recommendations is to eliminate a single program but recommendations to scale back,” Martirano said.
While increasing class sizes by one or two students is on the table, “no decision has been made,” he said. Last year, the County Council gave the school system an additional $5.1 million to curb the increase in class sizes.
Martirano’s list looks to trim the budget by nearly $40 million, reflecting the $37.9 million shortfall that is presenting itself in the proposed spending plan. The shortfall is due to County Executive Calvin Ball’s proposal of using one-time funds for recurring expenses, Martirano said.
“Board members have expressed unease with using these dollars for recurring expenses as that is not sustainable,” he said.
In April, Ball proposed $605.2 million for the school system’s operating budget. His proposal is nearly $84 million short of the school board’s request of $689.3 million from the county.
In February, the school board approved a $972.7 million spending plan that along with the county funding seeks $265.7 million from the state, $385,000 in federal funding and $17.3 million from “other sources.”
“The reality is the reality,” said school board member Christina Delmont-Small said. “The county doesn’t have the money and we have the needs that outpace our funding. There is no other way to put it.”
Other proposed cuts include reducing the number of Gifted and Talented teachers at the elementary level from 79.5 to 42 and at the middle school level from 60 to 20. Also, cutting elementary school paraeducators from 216 to 132. However, Martirano is still recommending to increase the number of kindergarten paraeducators from 84.5 to 97 positions.
“We are hurting as we make these decisions,” said Mavis Ellis, school board chairwoman. “My heart is breaking as we looking at these cuts, cutting paraeducators from math and reading; it’s just very hurtful.”
Martirano stressed several times during the work session that “no decision has been made.”
“I think right now I have taken you as far as I can take you,” he said. “We’re not voting on it, but it gives us a very thoughtful approach to calm the noise in our community and a very thoughtful approach to County Council.”