Balto. Co. schools budget would preserve teaching positions
After receiving criticism last school year for cutting high school teaching positions while keeping administrators, Baltimore County Superintendent Joe A. Hairston is proposing to do the reverse next year — preserve classroom teachers and eliminate 46 administrative positions.

Hairston presented a proposed $1.23 billion operating budget to the school board Tuesday night that includes an increase of $19.6 million from the current year.

"We preserve our teaching positions. We preserve our academic programs for our children," said Hairston, who is leaving the school system when his contract expires in June.

If passed by the school board and funded by the county government, the budget would include about $5 million to hire 123 teachers needed because of an expected increase in enrollment. The increase of 1,570 students would be the largest in 10 years. The new hires would not undo the cuts to about 200 teaching positions that occurred through attrition this school year.

"We are just getting the presentation tonight so I haven't reviewed the budget in great detail," said Lawrence Schmidt, president of the board. "I would say that I am pleased that the budget apparently does not eliminate classroom positions. I think the board would be very reluctant to do that."

"This is a lean budget. It is basically a status quo budget," Hairston said at the meeting.

For the second straight year, the budget would not lay off or furlough employees. Employees would get annual step increases outlined in the contract, at a cost of $14 million, but would not get an across-the-board cost-of-living increase.

A group of administrators would receive an annual salary increase but might have a two-day pay cut this year that would save $30,000.

Hairston would save $6.1 million by cutting 46 administrative positions through attrition. The reductions include 15 central office staff, nine employees in facilities and eight employees providing professional development for teachers. Five administrative positions have been consolidated.

Hairston is asking the county to fund about half of next year's school budget. The remainder would be paid through state and federal funds. Under state law, counties are required to maintain a minimum amount of funding per pupil under the maintenance of effort formula or risk paying a penalty to the state.

The requirement is designed to ensure that counties bear their share of the burden of funding schools as the state has been increasing the amount of funding it provides over the years. Baltimore County has generally contributed more per pupil than is required. But for the first time next year, the county would spend $673 million, or $6.1 million more than last year, which with enrollment growth is just enough to meet the minimum.

Hairston said that while no new academic programs are being proposed, he was able to fund some technology that will help provide wireless access to classrooms as well as technology to communicate with parents.

Currently, about 50 schools have a program that allows parents to sign on to a website and see their children's grades and school assignments. Hairston said he hopes to provide the technology to all schools.

The school system would save about $4 million by changing health insurance providers. Employees can switch voluntarily to Cigna this year, but everyone would have to make the change next year, he said.

The system also is negotiating with its unions to have employees pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums. Employees now pay 10 percent, but the budget calls for that to rise to at least 11 percent.

Overall, Hairston's operating and capital budgets call for the school system to spend 2.7 percent less next year because of a reduction in expenditure on capital projects. A bond issue usually done every other year means that funds will not be available next school year. The county school system has requested $70 million for capital projects from the state, which so far has agreed to fund $23 million.

A public hearing on the budget will be held at 7 p.m. Jan. 17 at Ridge Ruxton School, 6916 N. Charles St. in Towson.

liz.bowie@baltsun.com

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