The school board voted to adopt the superintendent’s proposed budget, giving all employees a cost-of-living raise, providing all high schools an athletic trainer, allowing most kids to stay in virtual learning, and asking for more money from the county.

Before Tuesday’s vote, the proposed $2.6 billion budget for the next school year was criticized from all sides. Advocates didn’t like the number of teaching positions being cut, board members didn’t want to downsize the virtual learning program, and the county executive didn’t like how much money the county would have to pay for it.

Now the budget is in the county executive’s hands, with a decision expected in April. District leaders don’t yet know the budget’s new price tag.

Here are five things you should know about the new approved budget.

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1. Teachers get raises, but central office positions get cut

Educators who were furious about not getting a cost-of-living increase in the proposed budget got their wish Tuesday night. District leaders found a way to fund a pay raise, but at the cost of cutting other staff positions.

Before the school board meeting, dozens of educators rallied outside the board of education building in Towson, chanting: “Dignity, respect, more money in our checks,” and “Want us to stay, increase our pay!”

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said before the vote that she’s tired of fighting for compensation equal to neighboring districts. Joe Coughlin of the education support professionals union said over a third of his fellow members would not have received raises.

Starting salaries for teachers went from $52,927 to $59,000, and members of the union that represents bus drivers, cafeteria workers and other staff will receive at least $15 an hour. Negotiations with employee unions are ongoing, so the numbers can change.

To fund the pay increases, budget staff found a way to save $13.5 million by cutting supervisory positions in the central office, among other measures.

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2. The virtual learning program avoided a downsize

After initially pitching to cut nearly half the students in its virtual learning program, district leaders found a way to keep almost all who are currently enrolled. This year’s first and second graders in the program will have to return to in-person learning next school year, but third through eleventh graders — 1,074 students — can stay in the program.

During a Feb. 14 meeting, staff said it would cost $16.5 million to keep the program going as is. On Tuesday night, district staff said they can spend $6.7 million in pandemic relief funds and use operating funds to pay for virtual learning teachers. The pandemic money is set to run out after next school year.

3. High schools will get athletic trainers

Board members disregarded a plan to phase-in athletic trainers and added a trainer to every high school, along with a supervisor to oversee them, for $3.4 million.

Board member Rod McMillion had been calling for more athletic trainers — certified health care professional who provide care to athletes — since a Randallstown High School football player died following a medical emergency during practice in September. There was an athletic trainer on the scene at the time, but 10 of the 24 high schools do not have one. They rely on EMTs to cover the games. Most of the other 14 schools have contracted help.

District leaders had pitched a phase-in approach by adding 10 full-time trainers for schools that have no trainers at all, which would have cost $1.2 million. The board voted to fund all 25 positions, instead, but five of the 12 board members opposed.

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“I really understand this is a large sum of money,” McMillion said. “Out of the topics we discussed, this is about life and death.”

4. More than 160 vacant teaching positions will be cut

The system proposed cutting 162.3 vacant full-time equivalent teaching positions that would save the system $24.8 million. Of those positions, 29.7 are resource teachers, educators housed in the system’s central office who teach students and coach teachers. Board member Julie Henn moved to restore 10 of those positions for $1.3 million, but didn’t have the votes to do so. Fellow members weren’t sure how to pay for it. Henn was the only one who voted against approving the overall budget.

5. Schools requested a $23 million increase in county funds

County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. made clear in January he wasn’t happy with the superintendent’s proposed budget. Since then, the school system found a way to lower it.

Initially, the school system asked for $36.4 million more from the county compared to the current year. It’s now down to $23 million. Hartlove said Tuesday that the county would prefer if the request was $10 million.

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kristen.griffith@thebaltimorebanner.com

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