In what appears to be a first, the Baltimore County superintendent gave a preview of how the school system plans to spend $2.58 billion in the budget year that begins in July to an audience of principals and politicians on Monday.
It’s Myriam Rogers’ first time setting a budget as superintendent, and she broke with tradition by sharing a few details publicly before presenting it to the school board Tuesday night. The preview at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology for at least a hundred people showed she found a way to keep the overall cost of running the county’s public schools about the same, but she wants to spend a sizable chunk of it — $104.1 million — differently.
Rogers’ proposed budget earned high praise from County Executive Johnny Olszewski, who called last year’s budget under former Superintendent Darryl Williams “unrealistic.” He says Rogers’ proposal, which will be about half of the county’s budget, was “thoughtful and strategic.”
“I applaud Dr. Rogers and the BCPS team for our renewed and strengthened partnership, and for the ways in which they are reimagining their budget process to be more open and accessible than ever before,” he said in a statement.
Rogers’ proposed budget will reduce class sizes, avoid layoffs and make progress toward implementing education reform legislation, Rogers said.
How she’ll do it is still fuzzy. She took no questions at her presentation, and Baltimore County Public Schools officials declined to answer questions before Tuesday’s school board meeting.
In the meantime, here’s what we still want to know:
How did the school system find $104.1 million to use elsewhere?
Like other school systems around the nation, Baltimore County is facing the end of federal pandemic relief funding. Baltimore County used the temporary money to pay for long-term needs such as 15 extra minutes in the school day and safety assistants. They also had to find a way to fund initiatives from the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which is education reform legislation, and deal with the staffing shortages.
“So we took a new approach,” Rogers said. “We implemented a hiring freeze for central office … reimagined ways to maximize our grant funding and had many conversations to inform our decisions. We can honestly say we looked at everything.”
The result was cutting $104.1 million in some areas and reallocating it to others.
Rogers’ presentation showed that money coming out of categories like software licenses (down $1 million) and fuel (down $1.6 million), but other reductions on the list, like “standardize secondary class size allocations” remain murky without explanation.
The presentation listed cuts totaling $84.5 million, leaving $19.5 million not clearly accounted for.
How can the school system cut 516 positions without layoffs?
To save $31.2 million, Rogers cut about 516 full-time positions.
“The vast majority of position reductions are vacant,” Rogers said.
It’s unclear which of the 516 positions are occupied. The system “will be able to provide any impacted representative staff with internal options after notifications are made by March,” she said, suggesting they’d be reassigned.
Last year, the system cut 162.3 vacant teaching positions. It saved $24.8 million. At the time, school system staff said it was to match declining enrollment. Baltimore County now has 110,298 students, a 785-student drop since last year.
How will the cuts to some areas be reallocated to others?
Rogers’ presentation didn’t specify how much money would go to each area, but she made it clear she planned to invest in achievement, particularly in the elementary grades and prekindergarten.
She vowed after she was selected for the job over the summer that Baltimore County will become a top-performing school district. To make that happen, she’s adding 36.1 positions, for a price tag of $2.3 million, in elementary schools to improve student-teacher ratios.
Like other Maryland districts, Baltimore County struggled in math on the state test. In a new pilot program, 18 math lead teachers will help with math instruction for $1.1 million.
To keep supporting students who learn from home, 36.4 teachers will work in the virtual academy for $2.3 million.
Each school building will have a teacher to help with staff development. The $2.5 million price tag will pay for about 39 positions.
Rogers said she’s also adding chairpersons for elementary school individualized education program committees for $7.2 million to lessen the responsibilities of principals.
With $14.2 million, Rogers wants pre-K employees that include roughly 36 classroom teachers, 99 paraeducators, 86 assistants and 72 special education staff. That growth will help the district move toward one of the goals of the Blueprint, providing full-day public schooling to 3- and 4-year-olds whose families make between 300% and 600% below the federal poverty level.
Rogers noted that Baltimore County lags behind the state when it comes to kindergarten readiness. In Maryland, 47% of young learners are ready for school. It’s only 40.1% in Baltimore County.
The superintendent will present her budget to the board Tuesday night. The public can weigh in on it Jan. 16 at a public hearing. The board will discuss the budget at a Jan. 23 work session and take a vote on Feb. 27.