School system seeks $1.16 billion budget

Proposal includes nearly $40 million for pay raises

January 10, 2007|By Gina Davis | Gina Davis,Sun Reporter

Under a proposed operating budget that exceeds $1 billion for the second consecutive year, Baltimore County school officials are seeking nearly $40 million for salary increases, much of which is designated to help recruit and retain top teachers.

The $1.16 billion proposed operating budget presented to the school board last night also includes about $16 million to cover retiree benefits and nearly $2 million toward all-day kindergarten.

The budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 reflects a 10.4 percent increase -- about $110 million -- over the current spending plan, according to school system documents.

Nearly $43 million of the proposed increase is being requested from the county government. School officials are anticipating about $68 million from the state, largely because of additional funding that is required through legislation prompted by the Thornton Commission.

School Superintendent Joe A. Hairston's proposal includes 160 new teaching and staff positions. Several of the teaching positions are for such initiatives as completing the expansion of AVID -- Advancement Via Individual Determination, a program that increases students' organizational and study skills in preparation for college -- and providing at least 12 Advanced Placement courses at each of the county's 24 high schools.

"Our teachers are simply the most significant component of our success," Hairston said.

The spending proposal also seeks about $5 million toward costs associated with two of the county's alternative education programs, which offer academic and behavioral intervention for low-performing students.

Hairston is requesting $814,000 in startup costs, including hiring a principal and front-office secretary, for Vincent Farm Elementary School. That school is expected to open in the White Marsh area in time for the 2008-2009 school year.

To help meet federal No Child Left Behind requirements to fill classrooms with highly qualified teachers and staff, the school system wants to spend $38.6 million on restructuring pay scales and step increases. An additional $1.3 million would be directed at increasing wages for the lowest-paid hourly workers. The pay increases are subject to labor negotiations under way between employee unions and school system officials.

Hairston's proposal includes funding for the final phase of the expansion of all-day kindergarten -- which state education officials have required for all pupils by the next school year -- at nine additional elementary schools: Rodgers Forge, Fifth District, Prettyboy, Fort Garrison, Timonium, Riderwood, Sparks, Jacksonville and Carroll Manor.

The school system is requesting $15.8 million from the county to cover half the district's contribution to a new fund that pays benefits to retired employees. This fund was created as result of new federal accounting requirements. To help generate funding for this category, school officials are seeking to reduce the costs of current employees' benefits by the same amount as part of this year's negotiations.

Hairston's proposal is scheduled to be discussed during a public hearing at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 at Ridge Ruxton School, 6916 N. Charles St., Towson.

A board work session is planned for 7 p.m. Jan. 30 at the Greenwood campus. The school board is expected to approve an operating budget in February. The request then will be sent to County Executive James T. Smith Jr. by March 1.

The County Council is to consider budget requests in April and set funding levels in May.

gina.davis@baltsun.com

Highlights

Some highlights of the proposed $1.16 billion operating budget for Baltimore County public schools:

$40 million to boost pay for all employees, including restructuring pay scales and step increases.

$5 million to purchase textbooks.

$5 million to expand alternative education services.

$3 million to replace federal funding for middle schools with low-income students.

$2.4 million increase for college tuition reimbursement for staff.

$1.7 million to complete phase-in of full-day kindergarten.

$814,000 startup costs for Vincent Farm Elementary, expected to open in 2008.

$596,700 to buy laptop computers for each high school.

$483,200 to cover 10 percent pay raises for assistants.

$99,000 to provide 30 graphing calculators at each high school

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