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In budget testimony, Anne Arundel residents press for more school construction, teacher pay

Many of the 25 Anne Arundel County residents who weighed in on the proposed county budget Wednesday night called for more money for school construction, raises for teachers and more mental health supports for students.

Parents were especially concerned about lost funding for West County Elementary School, which County Executive Steuart Pittman included in a series of coronavirus-forced budget cuts. Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent George Arlotto said the project was “sorely needed” to address class size issues in West County.

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The county held an online hearing on the budget at 6 p.m. Wednesday, where testimony was read into the record.

The Board of Education $748.1 million budget makes up about 44% of Pittman’s proposed budget and includes funding to staff the new Crofton High School, new mental health positions, for children whose lives have been upended by the global coronavirus pandemic, and includes only the $14.8 million maintenance of effort increase required by state law.

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Pittman proposes hiring 57 new teachers to staff Crofton High School and across the county 84 teachers to prevent class size growth as enrollment grows. Additionally, 76 special education positions and 12 behavioral health specialists.

Mental health

President of the Board of Education Michelle Corkadel said she’d like to see any additional funding go towards more mental health support for students.

“The needs of our students and families were on the rise well before COVID-19 and we will almost certainly have significantly more issues to address in the coming year,” Corkadel said.

Annapolis resident India Ochs called for more school psychologists and counselors for the same reason.

“The simple fact is trauma from COVID-19 will not just disappear when school buildings reopen,” Ochs wrote. “We may never know how many kids are experiencing physical or emotional abuse while at home, how many are lacking food or a stable shelter, how many are not doing assignments because of how much a break in routine school schedule causes stress, or how many are dealing with the illness or death of family or friends.”

Teacher pay

Though the county executive did include a step increase for teachers, many said that is not enough, given that many teachers across the county were denied step raises for multiple years after the 2008 recession.

Russell Leone, president of the county teacher’s union, said many teacher’s lost their second and third jobs they relied on to pay bills, and many of their spouses lost their jobs entirely. He called on the council to value their prior efforts and make teachers whole by granting the backsteps they missed.

“I know it sounds like year after year we’re here for money. But tonight, I’m here for the stability of our workforce teachers who stay in our schools build solid relationships with their kids and their community,” Leone said. “This can only be achieved when we value teachers as professionals that they are.”

Shawn Wingard, a teacher of agricultural science at Phoenix Academy, wrote that teachers should be paid according to their experience level, nothing that “It is a hard pill to swallow knowing that teachers with less experience make more than several hundred veteran teachers in the county."

New schools

Arlotto requested that any unused funds in the budget be funneled directly to construction and design for the West County Elementary School project, part of a county-wide effort to reduce class sizes as enrollment grows. He said it was a big part of the discussion around attendance boundaries for the new Crofton High School, and that if built, it would reduce crowding at Piney Orchard Elementary School.

Odenton resident Sam Travaglini said this elementary school would serve families in Forks of the Patuxant and Two Rivers Development, which is slated for continual development over the next few years.

“The longer the school is delayed, the worse the problems will get,” Travaglini wrote. “The time for action is now.”

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With the expansion of Two Rivers, some parents fear that Piney Orchard will become completely overloaded. Odenton resident Nicole Rumeau said her children go to school there, and she feared that the quality of her children’s’ education would be compromised if West County Elementary wasn’t added back into the budget.

Community college

Another common request at the hearing was more funding for Anne Arundel Community College, particularly faculty compensation.

President of the faculty organization Rachelle Tannenbaum said it is difficult to attract and retain quality instructors when they are not able to offer competitive pay.

“We pride ourselves on providing a top-notch education and continually striving to meet the county’s needs," Tannenbaum wrote. "However, we cannot do that without the infrastructure to meet our students’ needs, and the ability to attract and retain talented and innovative employees.”

Lori K. Perez, chair of the psychology department, said it was unfair that AACPS teachers would receive a raise when community college faculty would not. She said failing to provide competitive pay could send the wrong message to faculty.

“What message will be sent today to your community college employees: you are undervalued and unsupported or you are equitable in value and therefore deserve equal support? I sincerely hope it is the later and not the former," Perez wrote.

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