Berger submits $535.7 million school budget 'Reasonable' plan is $56.4 million above current one

January 29, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Calling his first Baltimore County schools budget a reasonable one in trying times, Superintendent Stuart Berger yesterday asked for $535.7 million with which to run the county's schools next year.

The budget, presented to the school board last night, represents an increase of $56.4 million over the current operating budget. It is Dr. Berger's first budget since he took over the school system in July.

The county's portion of the increase would be $39 million, which includes $17 million for the employer's share of teachers' Social Security payments. The state stopped paying that share this year, and the school system cannot absorb the cost in its normal budget, Dr. Berger said.

Not counting the Social Security money, the school board is asking the county for $22 million more than last year, an increase of 6.4 percent. The rest of the $56.4 million budget increase will be met by state and federal funds. The increases include $9 million to give each teacher a $1,400 raise; $3.8 million for 138 new teaching positions; $3 million for building maintenance; and another $3 million for instructional materials, which "have been especially hard hit during the recent budget crisis," Dr. Berger said.

The budget eliminates about 20 administrative positions, including 14 pupil personnel workers, who handle suspensions and expulsions and work with students' communities and families. Dr. Berger described these positions as half-administrator and half-social worker. Eliminating the 20 positions will save nearly $875,000.

"We think we have a rationale" for the budget, he said. "We cannot control inflation and we cannot control enrollment." He said the school system expects 3,200 more students next year and is calculating general inflation at 2.5 percent.

"The possibility exists, naturally, that the fiscal authorities will view the recommended budget as exorbitant, while the education advocates will see it as not sufficient . . . but we think this budget is very reasonable," he added.

County Executive Roger B. Hayden declined comment on the proposal, saying he has "ample time" to work on it before April 15, when he must send it to the County Council.

With the county facing a $31.6 million budget deficit this year and hundreds of layoffs of other county workers looming, the proposed school budget is unlikely to emerge intact. Mr. Hayden already has ordered the school system to cut $6 million from this year's $479 million operating budget, but the board hasn't yet said what it will cut.

The proposed 1994 budget provides an across-the-board pay increase of $1,400 for the system's 6,400 teachers. Dr. Berger said the increase reflects coming changes in the role of the classroom teacher.

The increase, negotiated in a new contract with the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, produces the greatest benefit for younger teachers at the lower end of the pay scale. Current salaries range from $24,500 for a beginning teacher with a bachelor's degree to $48,500 for a teacher with a master's degree, 30 years of experience and 30 hours of additional educational credits.

The budget contains an additional $9 million to finance normal step increases for teachers who are not at the top of the scale, as well as increases for nonteaching employees, according to Emmalyn Holdridge, manager of the budget office.

Dr. Berger said that the spending plan assumes a 12 percent increase in health-benefit costs, an increase that he considers "outrageous" but is far below the 20 percent the current health-care provider is seeking.

Other major budget items include:

* $962,000 for computer software to modernize record-keeping and make information available on personnel, student performances and school finances.

* $200,000 to create a computerized routing system for 700 school buses. Routing is now done manually.

The public is invited to comment at a hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 9 at Parkville High School. The board will vote on the budget Feb. 25 and must submit it to the county executive by March 1.

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