County school board hears comments on proposed budget

January 29, 2004|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Despite wintry weather that closed its schools yesterday, the Baltimore County Board of Education assembled last night to hear public comment on Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's proposed operating budget.

Jan Thomas, a parent who monitors the school system's budget for the PTA Council, criticized the board for holding the hearing on a night when schools had been canceled - saying that, plus a last-minute change in the hearing's location, may have limited public input.

School board member Michael P. Kennedy said Thomas had a legitimate point. "I'm not sure we did the best we could," he said. He urged people who did not have a chance to speak to call or write to board members, emphasizing that "we're still anxious to hear from you."

Of 16 speakers, six appealed to the board to fund additional staff for a growing program for infants and toddlers with disabilities. Speakers also expressed support for a proposed increase in salaries for teachers and other employees, and some said even more money for staff compensation is needed.

"When you value us and support us, you value and support our children," said Cheryl Eisenhauer, a teacher at Wellwood International School.

This month, Hairston proposed a $923 million operating budget that includes an extra $47 million in salaries and benefits for teachers and other employees.

Despite a bleak financial picture statewide, Hairston said increases in salaries, benefits and other compensation are crucial for the school system to attract and retain qualified employees.

His proposal, which represents a 5.4 percent increase over the current budget, does not specify how much of a raise any employee would receive. The school system and its five unions, the largest of which represents teachers, would negotiate distribution of the $47 million.

The school board is scheduled to study the budget at a work session Feb. 3 and adopt the budget, with its modifications, Feb. 25. It will then send the spending plan to County Executive James T. Smith Jr., who can make changes before sending it to the County Council for a final vote. The council can make cuts to the budget, but not additions.

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