Berger budget makes case for 11% increase

January 26, 1994|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Baltimore County school Superintendent Stuart Berger last night unveiled a $572 million budget request for 1994-1995, an 11 percent increase over this year's spending that includes $5 million targeted for the schools he says need it most.

Dr. Berger said he recognizes that the county's economic situation is "quite bleak," but said he was compelled to present a budget that meets the needs of the county's 96,000 students.

The spending plan, presented to the school board last night, includes $21 million in salary increases for administrators, teachers, and clerical and maintenance employees. It also includes 308 new positions, more than 250 of them for teachers.

With these new positions, the schools would just be able to keep pace with burgeoning enrollment but could not reduce class size -- a problem that Dr. Berger called one of "the glaring needs" of the system.

The proposed budget includes an anticipated increase of $11.4 million in state funds and asks for $46 million more from the county, which Dr. Berger said can be fully funded without a tax increase.

"Last year I tried to develop a budget that attempted to walk a careful line between the needs of students and the fiscal ability of the county," he told the board. "Probably I should have been wise enough to recognize that when one tries to walk a narrow middle road, one is likely to be hit by oncoming traffic in both directions. Last year's budget did not satisfy the desires of the education advocates nor . . . was it in any way funded by the fiscal authorities."

County Executive Roger B. Hayden, who controls the school budget, cut $21 million last year, including $17 million for pay raises. County employees have gone without a general pay increase for three years, but Mr. Hayden has hinted that there will be enough money for a modest pay increase in his fiscal 1995 budget.

The most unusual item is a $5 million proposal to give extra help to 50 schools in lower-income areas, most of which are among the county's low scorers in the tests that make up the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program.

Each school would receive a grant of $75,000 to $200,000 for principals to use for programs and materials to supplement students' education and improve their performance. The schools could not use the money to hire additional teachers or staff but could contract for services, such as counseling or tutoring.

The extra money would also address one of Dr. Berger's and the board's goals -- bringing more resources to bear on schools whose students are least prepared and least supported at home. Those schools are mostly in the southeastern and southwestern parts of the county.

"Greater resources are [currently] placed in the area of least need, rather than vice versa," Dr. Berger told the board, referring to schools in the wealthier, central part of the county. "Therefore, as a result of demographic and socio-economic differences and inequitable distribution of financial and human resources, student performance varies widely throughout the school system."

The $5 million is a budget addition, Dr. Berger said. The money would not be taken from other schools. In fact, all schools would receive a 7 percent increase in their general budgets.

Nevertheless, the superintendent conceded that the program could be politically explosive and unpopular. "It's the political process, backwards, giving money to the schools that have made the least noise," he said. "But I'm very committed to this."

Harry Belsinger, the principal at Colgate Elementary School, called the proposal "a bold step." Under the Berger plan, Colgate would receive a one-time grant of $75,000. Mr. Belsinger and his staff, who heard about the proposal before Christmas, say they would spend the money on new books for the lower grades, additional field trips and tutoring, a "library nook" for every classroom and new mathematics materials, called "manipulatives," for teaching basic concepts.

"If you begin to look at our needs, [$75,000] doesn't begin to address them, but it's a shot in the arm. This is going to provide some real equity," Mr. Belsinger.

The salary proposals would also provide some relief for school employees. Like other county employees, they have not had a raise since 1990. The proposal would include a $1,300 increase for everyone, plus 3 percent of current salary. The overall increase would be about 6 percent. Clerical workers and other school employees would receive a 6.4 percent increase, he said.

Also included in the budget are:

* $3 million to equip three new schools opening in September and new programs opening at 12 other schools.

* $500,000 for a computerized personnel system to handle payroll, benefits and personnel information.

"I am sure there are going to be people who say it's way too much," Dr. Berger said. "However, it is hardly an irrational request."

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