Baltimore County schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, who took over as head of the nation's 24th-largest school district in July, presented an $803 million spending plan last night that he says will boost student achievement, attract and retain qualified teachers, and rebuild flagging confidence in public education.
Hairston wants to spend $26 million on cost-of-living raises for teachers and administrators and $10 million on personal computers for teachers. He wants to extend the academic year for teachers at troubled schools and give them extra help from an "intervention team."
His proposed budget is $77 million - or 10.6 percent - larger than this year's. Last year, Hairston's predecessor, Anthony G. Marchione, asked Baltimore County for $743 million. He received about $726 million.
"That's what I was brought in here for," Hairston said. "We have a great school system, and it's exciting to meet our children's needs."
During the past six months, Hairston has met with principals, talked with elected officials and visited with business leaders. He's hired three sets of consultants to survey the system.
"I'm confident I understand this school system," Hairston said recently. "I think I've understood it all along."
He didn't hold back in crafting his wish list for the 2001-2002 school year.
In an effort to keep qualified educators from seeking better-paying jobs in neighboring counties, Hairston's operating budget includes a 5 percent cost-of-living raise for teachers and administrators - salary increases worth about $26 million. Baltimore County ranks ninth out of Maryland's 24 systems in teacher salaries.
Hairston wants $10 million to put a personal computer on every teacher's desk. Recently, the district spent $11 million to purchase 6,000 computers for pupils.
"We've been going years and years with borrowing computers," said Mark Beytin, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, who added that the computers could ease teacher workload, too.
Hairston's budget announcement kicks off an annual process that includes presentations to principals, parents and community groups.
School board members are expected to approve a budget before March 1. The County Council must adopt a spending plan before May 31.
Highlights of the superintendent's spending proposal include:
$6.97 million to improve the district's technology network, including creating wireless connections and upgrading aging computer equipment.
$4.92 million to hire 53 teachers, 5 language pathologists, and 96 instructional aides to work with special education students.
$2.9 million to align the system's elementary reading curriculum.
$1.94 million to pay teachers at 10 low-performing schools to work during the summer so they will have more time for planning and staff development.
$661,000 to hire 20 school custodians.
$500,000 to monitor foster-care children who attend county schools.
$432,000 to increase pay for substitute teachers.
$412,000 to set up an Academic Intervention Team, including five full-time teachers, who will work with low-performing schools.
$216,000 to hire a contract negotiator and contract attorney to oversee capital projects, in response to recent concerns by state and county officials that the school system was not spending state school renovation money fast enough.
Hairston's budget presentation comes a week after he transferred Chief Financial Officer Robin L. Churchill to another position within the system - a move that surprised board members and administrators. "It was a surprise to me because I hadn't heard any wave of concern with regards to her work at all," board member John A. Hayden said.
Churchill has declined to comment about her transfer. She did not attend the board meeting last night.
Those who did attend, including many administrators and parents, seemed to be pleased with what they heard.
"It looks like there is a large portion of money that will directly benefit students both in terms of book purchases and technology," said Laura Nossel, president of the PTA Council of Baltimore County. "We were disappointed last year when school officials asked for less money. Our belief is to shoot for the moon."
Members of the Citizens' Advisory Committee for Special Education, who have said school administrators and board members failed to meet special education staffing needs, applauded Hairston's funding requests.
Teresa LaMaster, chairwoman of the advisory committee, said she was pleased that the school system was agreeing to a multi-year funding commitment for special education.
"That's a paradigm shift that's really good," she said.