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Anne Arundel council adds 9 teachers, more money for educators in budget session

The Anne Arundel County Council added nine additional teachers and put an additional $110,000 toward teacher pay during Tuesday’s budget amendment meeting.

The council unanimously accepted the first 60 amendments on the agenda Tuesday in Annapolis, as all were changes suggested by the county auditor and agreed to by County Executive Steuart Pittman’s administration. The council also unanimously, save for one recusal from Councilwoman Lisa Rodvien, approved a transfer of $110,900 from the textbook and supply fund to salaries and wages for educators.

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Teachers reached out to the council, said Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler, and informed them that the additional money could go toward funding a missed step for some teachers.

The Board of Education has the ultimate say on how the influx of cash will be used, whether that’s for additional teacher positions, a back pay step increase or something else related to wages, but schools Finance Director Matthew Stanski said the system supported the addition.

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Most other amendments either passed or failed along party lines, with the four Democrats on the council largely deciding the fate of the other 45 amendments. All amendments suggested by County Auditor Michelle Bohlayer but opposed by Pittman failed, with the four Democrats on the council voting against them.

Councilmembers Fiedler, Jessica Haire and Nathan Volke, the Republicans on the council, all proposed a number of cuts to positions and spending on contracts to reduce the structural deficit built into this year’s proposed budget. General fund expenditures are budgeted about $20 million higher than revenue, paid for by the unusually high fund balance left at the end of last year’s budget cycle.

“In a year where we’re still seeing a large structural deficit, $20 million, we’re trying to make some difficult choices in places where we can, what we can to try and reduce that as much as possible over the constant yield, etc. and so continually adding is not sustainable,” said Haire, a Republican from Edgewater who plans to formally launch a bid for county executive next week.

Fiedler, R-Arnold, and Haire proposed an amendment that would cut an increase to substitute teacher pay as well as back pay owed to some executive and administrative staff in order to fund four new special education teachers. Both Rodvien, D-Annapolis, and Councilman Andrew Pruski, D-Annapolis, recused themselves because of ties to the school system. Volke, R-Pasadena, voted no alongside his colleagues to defeat the measure.

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A later amendment from Councilwoman Allison Pickard, D-Glen Burnie, proposed using cost savings from prior cuts to add funding for nine teacher positions to the budget at $692,800 overall. Fiedler, Haire and Volke voted against the measure.

Volke, in addition to offering amendments designed to cut costs, proposed limiting all spending that would compel a county employee “to personally affirm, adopt, or adhere to the tenets of critical race theory.”

The amendment defined “critical race theory” as affirming certain aspects of someone’s identity, such as race or sex, is superior to another; that individuals should be treated differently based on those characteristics; and that individuals are responsible for the actions of other in the same category.

Volke explained his amendment as a non-discrimination measure.

But critical race theory, a term gaining traction among conservative politicians, is typically used to identify and condemn the thought movement originating in the 1970s that sought to examine the way slavery and segregation continue to affect American institutions today.

More recently, it has been used to decry educational programs stemming from the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which reexamined the founding of America not as the year colonists declared independence from Britain, but the year the first slaves are thought to have arrived in what would become the United States.

“The way critical race theory is defined in this amendment, it’s not the commonly accepted definition of critical race theory,” Rodvien said. “And so I would I will not support this one because it’s not it’s not accurately describing the critical race theory.”

The amendment failed along party lines, with Democrats and the administration arguing the amendment addressed a policy issue, not a financial one.

The administration presented a supplemental budget containing changes to the proposed budget. Those include money for an additional health inspector, two sheriff’s deputies, geographic information services for the board of elections and a police officer.

Changes to the capital budget included additional funds for a salt storage project, school sidewalks and the Annapolis memorial honoring the Capital Gazette staff killed in 2018.

A council vote to waive the public meeting required if the supplemental budget contains additional costs failed, so the public will have the chance to submit testimony or sign up to testify during the online meeting at 9 a.m. Monday. The council will take a final vote on the budget after hearing testimony.

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