Board considers aides in class

Grade-school assistants among items discussed at budget session in county

February 02, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County school board members expressed interest last night in adding aides to preschool, kindergarten and other elementary-grade classrooms.

The members were responding to teachers and parents who called for an aide in every kindergarten class at a public hearing last week on Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's proposed operating budget for next school year.

Last night, the board met for a work session on the budget.

Members Donald L. Arnold, Michael P. Kennedy and Warren C. Hayman expressed interest in adding aides, particularly to kindergarten classes, in coming years.

Frances A.S. Harris, one of four people who joined the board last year, expressed concern that it spends too much money on meals for itself -- particularly on dinners to lobby state legislators.

"We've gone to some very expensive places," she said. "I personally feel horrible."

Kennedy responded that such meals are infrequent, adding, "I think the people in Baltimore County are getting a pretty good deal."

Board members also said they are interested in adding two internal auditor positions to the budget proposal.

Hayman said he'd like to see more money budgeted to train teachers in cultural responsiveness and to train existing staff to become school administrators -- preparation for an anticipated shortage.

The purpose of the work session was for board members to ask questions about Hairston's $994 million budget request. It represents a $73 million, or 8 percent, increase over this school year's spending.

It includes money to expand full-day kindergarten, preschool and college-readiness programs.

The increase is the biggest that Hairston has requested in four years. Hairston has said that the school district needs the additional money largely to meet the increasing demands of the state's Thornton Commission plan, the federal No Child Left Behind Act and rising health care costs.

Hairston budgeted $23 million for raises, an additional $14 million for health insurance, $10 million in step increases and $564,000 for assistant principals' salaries. Most of the $23 million would go toward raises for the district's 8,000 teachers, district officials have said. They say they have increased the money for teachers' salaries by 4 percent.

After two years with no cost-of-living increases for county employees, teachers received, on average, a 4 percent raise this school year.

At a public hearing on the spending plan last week, speakers voiced support for Hairston's proposed addition of staff to the county's Infants and Toddlers Program, which provides services such as speech and physical therapy to children with disabilities.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Feb. 22. It would then send the proposal to the county executive, who can make changes before sending it to the County Council for a final vote. The council can cut the budget but not add to it.

The operating budget does not include construction costs, which are funded by the capital budget. Hairston's total proposed spending -- operating and capital -- is $1.3 billion.

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