County school board backs budget

Revised $992 million plan would give teachers second consecutive raise

February 23, 2005|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore County school board signed off last night on Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's proposed spending plan for the 2005-2006 school year, sending to the county executive a budget that includes raises for teachers for the second consecutive year.

The $992 million operating budget approved by the board included some changes to the proposal Hairston first presented last month. It decreases the amount budgeted for staff raises from $23 million to $22 million, a result of continuing labor negotiations. School district officials have said most of the $22 million will go to boost teacher salaries.

Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said yesterday that she expects teachers will receive, on average, a raise of 4 percent. She said the union and school district are negotiating on how the money will be distributed among teachers.

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

"Last year was a first step in moving us out of the ranking of 17th," Bost said, referring to the fact that Baltimore County teacher salaries were the 17th-highest in a state with 24 school districts. "This is an additional good-faith step."

Other changes to the budget include the addition of $150,000 to hire two more auditors in preparation for a state legislative audit and $750,000 for rising utility costs. The amount of money budgeted to replace aging school computers was cut by $1.8 million, to $3 million. Barbara Burnopp, the school district's executive director of fiscal services, said that even with the cutback, the district is keeping to a computer replacement schedule.

The revised budget also reflects a projected increase in state and federal grants.

The budget requests $596 million from Baltimore County, a 4.6 percent increase from this year's budget; $385 million from the state, a 12.5 percent increase; and $10 million from other sources, a 1.2 percent decrease. The large increase in requested state aid reflects an expected increase in money as a result of the Thornton plan, a $1.3 billion initiative to increase state spending on public schools.

The board will send the budget 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 cut the budget but not add to it.

"We've heard so much, `You must ask for what you need,'" school board President James R. Sasiadek said before last night's meeting. "Well, we're asking. Baltimore County is financially in a position to do it."

Board member Rodger C. Janssen abstained from the vote, saying the request is the best in recent years but still doesn't address many needs.

Board members said they want to include money in future budgets for paid parent helpers in kindergarten classes.

After the meeting, school board President James R. Sasiadek met with four members appointed last year to discuss their frustration over comments he had made to The Sun. In supporting a bill to require state Senate confirmation of the governor's school board appointments, Sasiadek said some new members are taking "potshots" at the board and not showing up at meetings and school events.

The newer members told Sasiadek it was inappropriate to air his concerns in public. Member Frances A.S. Harris walked out on that 20-minute discussion after the first five minutes.

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