Balto. Co. school board requests operating budget of $891 million

February 27, 2003|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County school board approved an $891 million operating budget last night that would give all system employees a 3 percent raise and institute several initiatives to cut class sizes and bolster instruction in elementary schools.

The 2003-2004 spending proposal is $9.5 million more than the one offered last month by Superintendent Joe A. Hairston, largely due to the board's inclusion of raises for the system's 17,000 employees. The budget would be $81 million more than the one for this school year.

Although the spending request cuts some programs, such as the academic intervention team that helps poorly performing schools, it includes new money to cut class sizes and to hire technology teachers and mentors for math teachers in elementary schools.

But school officials and board members blamed much of the budget increase on health care costs, which are expected to rise $22 million next year.

The request will go to County Executive James T. Smith Jr. He will send a spending package of his own to the County Council, which can cut but not add to it.

The school system's final budget may bear little resemblance to the request approved last night. County officials do not know how much state money they will receive, and they may not find out until the General Assembly session ends in April.

The uncertainty is so strong, county spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said, that officials have not projected how much county revenues might grow.

With the state facing a projected two-year deficit of $1.8 billion, the county may not get the state funding needed to support the new initiatives.

While school officials and board members worked on their budget request, Smith asked for a "fiscally responsible" proposal.

"Because of the increasingly bleak state fiscal situation, it's going to be a very tough year to fund any substantial increases in county government this year," said Matthew Joseph, the county executive's education liaison.

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