Baltimore County school Superintendent Darryl Williams is asking county officials to earmark more than $138 million for raises and expanded services over the next five years, according to an updated spending plan the school system sent to the county last week, even after County Executive Johnny Olszewski said he opposes the county paying those costs.

To fulfill the teachers union contract, the system would need to scrounge up millions for its $1.7 billion operating budget to sustain the higher pay over the next five years. The county school board voted last month to ask Olszewski to use $50 million in surplus funds to raise pay for teachers and other school staff. The money would cover raises for just one year.

Olszewski, a Democrat, called the move irresponsible because the school system was using one-time money to pay for recurring costs, which would eventually fall to county taxpayers. Olszewski asked the school system to pay for the raises within their current funding.

The letters from Williams, obtained by The Baltimore Banner, are the latest attempt to lay out a plan for paying for the raises.

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It’s a big figure — $500 million more by 2027 — and so far Williams doesn’t have a plan that won’t require more than $138 million additional from the county.

$16 million in proposed cuts

In the five-year plan, Williams proposed cutting $16 million of school system spending.

He also suggested using money from the school system’s fund balance, recently passed state funding, and federal dollars, as well as asking the county to give hundreds of millions more than would be required by law.

In the budget year beginning July 1, 2024, for example, he needs an additional $113 million. That would add 15 minutes to the school day, increase pay for substitutes and temporary employees, and fund 131.5 full-time paraeducators to help students with math and reading.

Williams also plans to use $205 million of the system’s fund balance between the current budget year and 2027, and $36 million of COVID funds during this fiscal year. The school system would save $16 million from the budget that begins July 1, 2023 by reducing central office positions, auto stipends, implementing a revised cell phone stipend policy, reducing mileage reimbursement, and eliminating other operating-budget-funded initiatives.

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Olszewski has said he remains open to using additional money from the fund balance as a resource for one-time bonuses and incentives for staff. But he was skeptical about the federal funds, which are a one-time payment instead of an ongoing salary expense. Olszewski agreed to a school board request to use $14 million to fund a full-year cost-of-living adjustment for school employees that would take effect immediately.

“If your team has identified a long-term plan to fund salary increases this year and sustain them into future budgets with funding from the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future and expenditure savings in your budget, I stand ready to work with you to finalize a long-term, fiscally-responsible and sustainable solution,” Olszewski said in a written response last month.

He also encouraged Williams to budget for an additional $10 million above maintenance-of-effort for each of the next four fiscal years as a “sign of my continued commitment to our educators.”

For the school system to make substantive cuts as the county executive wants, it would likely require cutting staff, because so much of the budget comes from salaries. Other large expenditures include $90 million on transporting children to and from school and $226 million for special education.

Plan under review

Olszewski said his office is still reviewing the sustainability and fiscal responsibility of Williams’ plan.

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“I am dedicated to making sure our educators receive the competitive compensation they deserve, and the record education funding I have provided since taking office reflects this commitment,” he said in a statement.

In an emailed statement to The Banner, the school system described the proposed plan as “fiscally sustainable” and said that it prioritizes the Blueprint and identifies savings within the system’s budget.

“We are grateful to our funding partners and committed to coming together to find solutions that are both fiscally responsible and financially meaningful to our hard-working employees,” the statement read.

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said, at first glance, it doesn’t look like Williams met the parameters Olszewski asked for. She said Olszewski has given historic amounts of money to the school system over several years and he asked the school system to find the money in its own budget.

Teachers union weighs in

The teachers union is presenting a letter at today’s school board meeting that calls on the county executive, superintendent, and the union to collectively find a way to provide pay raises. She said 2,800 teachers signed it

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“Our ask is that everybody go back to the table,” she said in an interview. “We sit down and we look at it and we figure it out because we need to make sure we are recruiting and retaining our educators.”

Yara Cheikh, a longtime education advocate, agreed that the teachers need to be compensated, but she says the county government needs to find a way to make it happen. There’s a teaching shortage crisis, she said, and pay raises are overdue.

“Development is a significant source of income for other counties,” she said. “We have never asked developers to pay for … schools and infrastructure, of which they benefit from, in a meaningful way.”

Developers do pay impact fees, which cover the public costs of development, but Cheikh said it’s not enough. While the school system should be running as efficiently as possible, the county also needs to examine all possible options to help pay for raises. It can find a creative way to do so without raising taxes, she added.

This story has been updated to correct the amount the school system is requesting from the county, which is more than $138 million.

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