Baltimore County schools budget proposal mostly unchanged from last year

No layoffs or furloughs expected

council to vote Thursday

May 25, 2010|By Mary Gail Hare, The Baltimore Sun

The Baltimore County school system's $1.37 billion budget proposal is slightly less than last year's budget but still meets the state's funding requirements.

The fiscal year 2011 budget, which the County Council will vote on Thursday, is a decrease of $277,000 from this year's expenditures.

The proposal includes funds for new construction, renovation, salaries and education initiatives. School officials project that enrollment will not change significantly; teacher salaries will remain competitive, with no threat of layoffs or furloughs to current staff; and students will not pay more for meals. The budget includes money for more staff for the Infants and Toddlers Program, which provides early intervention learning.

The six-year capital improvements budget proposal is down 21.3 percent as some projects have been delayed because of the sagging economy. The capital budget includes $11 million for installation of air conditioning at 10 schools, including Ridgely Middle, where parents have lobbied for more than two years. While many older buildings among the 170 schools lack air conditioning, officials say they have prioritized projects so that those with the greatest need are the first to get upgrades.

"We are evaluating buildings every year and stacking in order of need," said Michael G. Sines, executive director of physical facilities for the county school system.

Some parents say officials choose the least expensive projects, not the most critical.

At a public hearing last week, parents urged the county board to move forward with funding for air conditioning at the dozens of schools that lack it. Tracy Horch, president of the Westowne Elementary PTA in Catonsville, called for "making learning environments equitable."

"By keeping these schools technologically inferior, the message you are sending to our students is, 'Your education is not as important as others,'" she said.

Eli Morton, a fifth-grade student at Westowne, said the building often becomes so hot that children become drowsy, do not want to eat lunch and are continually at the water fountains.

"We are completely affected by the heat," he said. "Learning is slowed down. We have fans, but they waste energy."

His mother, Janine Kucik, compared her children's school with West Towson Elementary, which opens in a state-of-the-art building in August.

"Facilities in older, established neighborhoods should be of quality equal to those in new developments," Kucik said. "The contrast between my school and West Towson is so extreme. They are talking about ergonomic chairs and electronic chalkboards, while the fans in our cafeteria are so loud we cannot hear."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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