Balto. Co. lawmakers, educators call to keep teacher jobs

State lawmakers and educators in Baltimore County say they believe there are options to keep teachers in their current jobs, despite a letter from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz that says there is little chance he will restore teaching positions in next year's budget.

The county school system is proposing to eliminate 196 teaching positions, most of them in high schools, but critics say administrators, not classroom teachers, should be cut.

Del. John Olszweski Jr. said a number of legislators believe that while not all of the positions may be reinstated, there should be enough money for some, perhaps a third or a quarter.

"We may not be able to fill all of those positions," said Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, "but to the extent that we can fill as many as we can, we are doing our students a service."

Cheryl Bost, head of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, believes there are a number of places where additional money could be found, particularly by moving money around in the proposed county school budget.

"We are definitely in conversation with the county executive and the County Council to put a budget together that reinstates some of these teaching positions," she said. "Couldn't [Superintendent Joe A. Hairston] have found the $15 million in cuts across all job categories instead of just teachers?"

Bost has called for a freeze on administrative hires and has suggested that the county consider holding over $7 million in instructional costs that haven't yet been spent this year and put them toward the cost of keeping teachers in schools next year.

The county school board voted Tuesday night to move the money from the instructional category that is used for teacher salaries to other categories to pay for items that include the maintenance of facilities.

In an interview, school board President Earnest Hines did not say whether administrative costs should be decreased.

"We are not going to overreact to this. We have a solid plan in place," he said. "We won't know for a while what our student population will ultimately look like until school opens in the fall."

In his letter to legislators Thursday, Kamenetz said that while he was grateful that lawmakers had fought in Annapolis for more state funding for education, he would not be able to restore the teaching positions. Lawmakers had requested that the money be used for that purpose.

Instead, Kamenetz wrote, the money will have to cover several expenses that have recently come up, including a $9 million underestimate by the school system of what it will take to cover school system health care costs. In addition, the legislature is telling counties they must pick up the administrative costs of teacher pensions, a $2.5 million item.

Kamenetz said it would cost $15.8 million to keep the same student-to-teacher ratio in the schools. He said he'd have to add 271 teachers to the proposed budget, which includes the jobs he is planning to cut along with others that would be needed to make up for enrollment increases.

"Our request was to direct additional state funding for teachers. The executive acknowledges that there will be extra funds but, with other rising costs, will not commit to directing it to teachers. I hope he and the council will try to find another way to shift money into classrooms," Del. Stephen Lafferty, a Democrat from Towson, said in an email.

The county executive does not have authority to order the school system to spend money on particular items, but he can move money from one broad category in the $1.3 billion school budget to another. In addition, he can work to pressure the school board and the system to restore the cuts while reducing expenditures in other areas.

The County Council can cut money from the school budget, but not add to it.

Ellen Kobler, a spokesman for the county executive, said that any change seems unlikely but that the county budget analysts are still developing the budget, which will be presented next week.

"It is extremely challenging but we are continuing to review what is possible," Kobler said.

Hairston met with legislators early Friday morning in a private meeting to address a list of concerns from the public and the delegation concerning a range of school issues. Olszewski said that the meeting was brief but that Hairston had agreed to come to a larger meeting of the delegation sometime in the coming month.

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