Baltimore County high schools are beginning to decide which classes — likely the electives and small Advanced Placement courses — they won't be able to afford next year, as they begin eliminating as much as 10 percent of their faculty.
The reduction to the teaching force is being felt hardest at the high schools, where class sizes will rise from an average of 26 this year to 29 next year, according to budget documents. Elementaries, which the system protected from cuts through second grade, stand to gain five teachers overall because enrollment is growing. Cuts to middle school teachers will be larger than the elementaries but smaller than the high schools.
At schools such as Dulaney High School, one of the county's strongest, four English teachers are being cut as part of the loss of 13.5 teaching positions at a school with 115 teachers and 1,800 students.
Maria Hiaasen, an English teacher there, said faculty members are holding brainstorming sessions to decide how to deal with class sizes they expect could rise to as many as 40 students, as well as the increased workload on teachers who will be grading more assignments.
The suggestions have varied, from combining two Advanced Placement history classes in the auditorium and teaching it as though it were an introductory college course, to trying to encouraging seniors and juniors to take classes at a community college. While those suggestions may never become reality, Hiaasen said, the demoralized faculty is trying to be creative.
"Department chairs, working with administrators and the guidance department, spent much of the early part of the week justifying the electives. (Should we really offer beginning and advanced creative writing if only a dozen kids sign up?)" Hiaason said in an email.
The school board passed a budget for next year that calls for the reduction of 196 teachers by July 1 through attrition but makes no cuts to administrative positions or support staff such as secretaries or para-professionals who help out in some classrooms. The $1.3 billion budget is now before the county council and County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and could still be changed.
Kamenetz said he's appreciative of Superintendant Joe A. Hairston's efforts to control costs. But, he added, "We are going to examine the operating budget. … In the sense that we can try to fine tune that a little more, I am going to look at that."
School officials refused to release data on how many teaching positions would be cut at each high school, however, according to data collected by the teachers union, the reductions vary widely. Woodlawn and Dundalk, two schools where positions had been added during the past years when the schools were being restructed to improve, will lose those positions as well as the system wide reductions. Dundalk's teaching force will be cut by 16, and four mentors will lose their positions as well. Woodlawn would lose 19 teaching positions.
Donald Peccia, the school system's head of human resources, said some enrollment declines and increases are responsible for some of the shifts. The proposed budget also eliminates one of two librarian positions from each school. "I am always going to guarantee our people a job. It may not be where they want it," he said.
Sandy Skordalos, social studies chair at Patapsco High school, said option is either to make honors and standard classes quite large in order to keep the smaller AP classes or do away with some of the AP classes.
"It is defintely going to have a big impact on what is offered to students," Skordalos said. For college-bound students who will be prevented from taking AP classes, she said, "it will be a lot harder for them to be successful in college" and reduces the college credits they can earn.
Cheryl Bost, head of the union, said untenured teachers and those who have unsatisfactory evaluations are being kept while the more experienced tenured teachers are those being cut.
She said the union contract does not specify those conditions, but that has been the practice of the school system.
"We are very upset that there wasn't a more balanced approach in these tough fiscal times," Bost said. "All of the cuts came to teaching positions only and that is a direct hit to the quality of education for our students."
An analysis by the union shows that administrative positions have grown. During the past three years, 11 positions were added to the superintendent's staff. And in the past decade, the communication staff, has grown from two to five people.
In the budget, the school system would increase its spending by $6.1 million on new technology, including a $1.6 million expansion for wireless Internet access in some schools. The teaching cuts are believed to save about $12 million, according to Bost.
Where cuts could come
Estimated number of teaching positions to be cut from Baltimore County high schools
Catonsville8.5Chesapeake6.5Dulaney13.5Dundalk16Eastern7.5Franklin10.5Hereford8.5Kenwood15Lansdowne16.5Loch Raven1Milford Mill3New Town8.5Overlea6.5Owings Mills7Parkville10Patapsco8.5Perry Hall17Pikesville7Randallstown13.5Towson9.5Woodlawn19
Source: Teachers Association of Baltimore County