Baltimore County’s superintendent of schools proposed cutting hundreds of jobs, but the school board won’t know which ones until after it votes on the $2.5 billion budget at the end of February. That was by design.
When Superintendent Myriam Rogers proposed her fiscal 2025 budget at the beginning of January, she highlighted $29 million in savings from eliminating around 500 positions, most of them vacant. A spokesperson said Wednesday the amount is now $30.5 million. The school system would put the money it saves into other things, such as paying for the extra 15 minutes at the end of the school day initially funded by expiring federal dollars and expanding public prekindergarten as the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, education reform legislation, requires.
Rogers made clear no one was getting laid off and that the system tried avoiding cutting positions in school buildings, but some staff would need to be reassigned. That’s where things get tricky.
Rogers wants to give employees proper notice if their positions are disappearing but not before a final decision is made. She said at a news conference last week they’d be notified in March. Meanwhile, board members want to know exactly which positions are being cut before they approve the budget Feb. 27.
Board members asked school system officials dozens of questions about the budget, according to board meeting documents. There was one recurring question: Where were the budget outlines by department?
“If we are committed to increasing transparency around the budget, it seems counterproductive to provide less information,” board member Julie Henn wrote.
The school system explains the 309-page budget book doesn’t include department-level information because it did not want to reveal where the cut positions were coming from.
“Once finalized by the Board, the adopted FY2025 operating budget book will include department-level information, including any affected positions, budget by object class and budget by category,” the system stated.
Board member Rod McMillion also pointed this out during a Jan. 23 budget work session.
“I’m finding it very hard to conceptualize voting for a budget where I can’t see detail,” he said. “If I’m going to be fiscally prudent with my vote, how can I vote for something I can’t see?”
Rogers responded by saying department-level information can be found within the budget book, but publishing the cut positions wouldn’t be fair to staff. The budget book shows dollar amounts for departments but doesn’t specify where every dollar goes.
“I think there are people who’ve been in this room and watched people’s faces change when they heard in a public board presentation that next to their position was a zero,” the superintendent said.
Rogers will meet with board members if they want more information, she said, but it’s her responsibility not to expose those staff members and protect employee morale.
Board member Jane Lichter agreed. She understands that board members may be frustrated by the lack of information, but she also recalled teachers finding out about their jobs during last year’s board meeting and called it “heart-wrenching.”
“The look on those people’s faces to hear that … they did not have their position back was very hard,” Lichter said.
The number of jobs being eliminated comes out to 527, a spokesperson said Friday. Of those jobs, 255 are vacant teacher positions and 14 are filled non-teacher positions.
“I’m always concerned when I see positions being cut,” Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said.
But she spoke to Rogers, who said it’s to realign positions.
In a meeting document, school system staff said they examined each teaching position within a school and identified “situations in which teaching staff did not have teaching responsibilities or had limited responsibilities. By clearly defining roles and instructional responsibilities, staffing has been realigned, ensuring staffing standards.”
The system is also adding people to the classroom, including 35 more special education teachers and 35 teachers to instruct English language learners. Those students struggle in academic achievement compared to other groups.
A win for all staff in this budget is the three-year negotiated agreement with the school system that comes with a 13% salary increase for employees. For the deal with teachers, it shortens and condenses the pay scale, implements a committee to address student discipline over two years, and gives educators two additional personal business days, among other changes, according to the teachers union.
Baltimore County Public Schools has updated the number of filled non-teaching positions that are being cut from 56 to 14.