Schools seek to retain faculty

$60 million increase proposed in budget for Balto. County

Hiring bonuses planned

Marchione tries to avoid effects of teacher shortage

January 12, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

Hoping to sidestep a nationwide teacher shortage, Baltimore County schools Superintendent Anthony G. Marchione proposed yesterday a $743 million spending plan for next year that includes $1,000 signing bonuses for new math and science teachers.

The operating budget includes a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers, as well as more money for principals and substitute teachers, moves that Marchione hopes will keep qualified, experienced staffers from seeking more lucrative positions elsewhere.

Marchione's proposed budget is $60 million -- or 8.8 percent -- larger than this year's.

Nationally, low unemployment, negative perceptions about careers in education, and impressive starting salaries in other industries have reduced the pool of qualified applicants, Marchione said.

As a result, competition among school systems for well-trained teachers and administrators, including superintendents, has grown more intense.

"Just as we are developing strategies to attract the best and the brightest, so too are other school systems," Marchione said yesterday at a meeting of the Board of Education. "Baltimore County public schools must take steps to regain our competitive edge."

Three years ago, Baltimore County ranked third in the state in starting salaries for teachers with a bachelor's degree, he said. As of September, the county had dropped to sixth place.

"We must reverse this trend if we are to attract and retain the best classroom teachers," Marchione said.

Marchione's budget message begins a process that includes presentations to principals, parents and community groups. Board members are expected to approve a budget Feb. 22. The County Council must adopt a spending plan before May 31.

Student enrollment next fall is expected to be about 107,300, slightly more than last year's. Most of the proposed $60 million operating budget increase would come from the county.

School system officials also plan to spend about $149 million on capital projects next year. Marchione's budget proposal contains 411 new positions, including 63 special-education teachers, 29 guidance counselors, 10 bookkeepers, 17 computer technicians, and 32 custodians.

In addition, he's asking for money to hire five reading specialists for the county's six alternative schools, where about 65 percent of students -- most of whom have behavioral problems -- read below grade level. Only one reading specialist is assigned to those schools today.

Marchione says he needs $50,000 to outfit school buses with cellular phones. In November, a group of Kingsville Elementary School pupils was stuck on a bus for about two hours when the driver got lost and couldn't call for directions.

"This is wonderful," said Brenda Ward, a Perry Hall resident and the grandmother of one of the children stuck on the bus. "What if a child has a seizure or an asthma attack? Right now, there is no way for the bus driver to get ahold of someone to help."

Marchione's biggest concern, however, is keeping those on the front line -- principals, assistant principals, teachers and substitute teachers -- happy, he said.

"We need to do all that we can to enhance our salary schedule to be competitive," he said. "We tried to do some of it last year, but all the other [school] systems continue to go up."

To compete in a tight job market, Marchione seeks $1.37 million to increase the salaries of school principals and some administrators. Some assistant principals also could be asked to work 12 months instead of 10. Marchione has asked for $185,000 to increase their salaries.

The longer year would give school administrators more time to organize enrichment programs and plan curricula, he said.

Marchione has budgeted a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers in addition to salary raises negotiated as part of a four-year contract approved last year.

In addition, he is seeking $400,000 to provide hiring bonuses for teachers who specialize in subjects such as math and science -- a program similar to one adopted by Howard County school officials last April. Marchione also is requesting $19.8 million to cover merit raises, which are based on a teacher's educational background and years in the classroom.

Hourly employees, including reading tutors, bus drivers, substitute teachers and special education assistants, could receive pay raises, too. Marchione is requesting $2 million to cover those costs.

Other proposed expenses include $5 million to buy 4,000 computers and $3.3 million to begin a three-year library improvement program.

"We have not kept up with keeping our libraries up to date," Marchione said, adding that some high school libraries have "ancient books" on their shelves.

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