After an uneasy budget season, Baltimore County’s school board on Tuesday night approved the school system’s $2.58 billion budget for next school year, with three of 12 members voting against it.

Questions have been swirling ever since Superintendent Myriam Rogers proposed her budget last month about how it would impact jobs and class sizes. At her January presentation, Rogers showcased the $104 million the system saved to pay for The Blueprint initiatives and items funded with temporary federal dollars. Among the cuts were around 500, mostly vacant, staff positions that saved $30.5 million.

There would be no layoffs, she said, but confusion and concern set in when Rogers wouldn’t say earlier this month where those cuts were being made. Rogers said at the time she didn’t want staff to learn about their jobs being cut through a board meeting. Since then, staff have started to receive notifications for reassignments; some elementary school foreign language teachers are among them, as their program will phase out after next school year.

Rogers has said the cuts were part of a trade-off to improve student achievement and shrink class sizes in third through fifth grades from an average size of 25 to 24. In the meantime, secondary schools will see an increase, which is supposed to be temporary. Middle schools are going from about 19 students to 22, and high schools are going from about 21 students to 23, though the numbers will vary by grade level, subject and student need.

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Cuts and class sizes were the theme of the conversation among board members at Tuesday’s meeting. Board member Felicia Stolusky wanted to know more about the cuts happening in central office; Rod McMillion asked where exactly all the teachers being cut are going to go; Maggie Domanowski said she wanted to hear from teachers about how they are impacted by class sizes; and Julie Henn wanted to know more about how the different class sizes will affect students.

“We’re kind of, in a way, I feel like blind passing this,” Domanowski said. “It’s a little bit scary not knowing the total impact of this.”

Rogers and the board chair, Tiara Booker-Dwyer, often said that the information was given to them previously.

Rogers told McMillion that teachers will be assigned to a job that matches their certifications. She also noted there were 130 vacancies at the secondary level and reminded the board that the system has plans to publicize the number of staff and kids in a classroom at each school in real time.

The chair told Henn that the board’s job is governance, and not to get too far in the weeds of operations.

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“We are really looking toward the bigger picture of this budget,” Booker-Dwyer said.

But that wasn’t enough for Henn.

“Anecdotal information is not supposed to be what we’re basing our decision on,” Henn said.

Board member Robin Harvey reminded her colleagues about everything the budget is adding, such as special education positions, support for athletes and job stability.

“I believe when we focus on individual aspects, that those things get lost,” she said. “We had millions upon millions of dollars to cut.”

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Henn, McMillion and Domanowski voted against the budget, while the other nine board members voted to approve.

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, made clear at Tuesday’s meeting that she doesn’t like this budget.

“I don’t love any budget that cuts positions,” she said. “I’m sure none of us do.”

However, Sexton supports it because it funds a 13% salary increase over three years for all employees. She expects the cuts to be a “one-year anomaly” and urged the board to recruit and retain educators.

Billy Burke, a union leader who represents school administrators, made similar comments. He supports the budget but noted that administrators and staff are being asked “to do more with less.”

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Other union leaders expressed their appreciation for the budget, especially for the increase in salary.

On Monday, all teachers received an accidental email stating their position would be “eliminated or reduced.” A spokesperson for the school system said the error was quickly corrected, but it still stoked staff anxiety about the anticipated cuts, Sexton said.

The tough budget decisions aren’t unique to Baltimore County. Districts around the state are dealing with the budget turmoil that has a lot to do with the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, the landmark education reform legislation that will change the way state money can be distributed among schools.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of school board members who voted in favor of approving the budget. Nine members voted for it.

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