The Baltimore County Public Schools system is proposing to cut over 160 vacant teaching positions to save millions. Staff from the budget office say it’s to match declining enrollment numbers, but union leaders and the school board chair still find it concerning.

The proposed cuts were explained in a 62-page document in which district staff answered dozens of board members’ questions about the district’s budget for fiscal year 2024. The answers revealed ways the system aims to save money in a spending plan the county executive called “unrealistic,” but also points to areas where they may invest more, such as all-day pre-K.

Superintendent Darryl Williams, who will leave the district after his term expires on June 30, proposed a budget of $2.6 billion, including a $1.9 billion general fund to cover school operations.

Budget discussions are ongoing, with another work session planned for Tuesday. The board will vote to adopt the budget Feb. 28.

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In the budget document, staff wrote that eliminating 162.3 full-time equivalent teaching positions would save the system $24.8 million. They make clear no individual schools are losing teachers to save money. All the positions were empty and the cuts align with enrollment, which has been declining since 2019, according to Chris Hartlove, the system’s chief financial officer. Around the nation, kids left the public schools for private schools or home schooling when parents did not want their kids learning virtually, and many never returned.

According to the proposed budget, enrollment stands at 111,083 this school year. It’s projected to jump by another thousand next school year. But school leaders are still concerned about the position cuts, even if it saves the system money.

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said she will never advocate for the removal of teacher positions, including resource teachers — educators housed in the system’s central office who teach students and coach teachers. The budget proposes eliminating 29.7 vacant resource teacher roles among the 162 total cuts.

“We have so many early career educators,” she said. “They need that support as well.”

In the budget document, school staff explain that they first preserve jobs for those who teach students directly. Then, they prioritize those who help with classroom instruction in English language arts and math, followed by science and then social studies.

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“Then we, where possible, prioritize content areas having at least a single resource teacher to be deployable across all 178 schools to support teachers in classroom instruction,” staff wrote.

In the budget document, staff responded to a request from board chair Jane Lichter to list the number of central office resource teachers the district employed in fiscal year 2021 and in the years since then. There were 97.4 of those positions in fiscal year 2021, and a table in the document indicated that number could be 63.3 for fiscal year 2024 — a drop of 34 positions.

Lichter, who used to be a resource teacher when she worked for the school system, said the drop-off was concerning. She said if the system starts a new English curriculum that is currently being piloted they will need resource teachers to help implement it.

“If we don’t get our teachers … we’re not going to see the gains in student achievement that we need,” she said.

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Billy Burke, head of the principals union, said not having the teacher positions worries him. He understands that enrollment is down, but there are still teacher vacancies at individual schools.

“I don’t know how that plays out because then will people who have those positions be moved into the vacancies?” he asked. “It will be a struggle.”

Advocates for the Gifted and Talented program were critical of the drop of resource teachers the budget is proposing for the office. The Advanced Academics office, where the GT program is housed, currently has four resource teachers, but the proposed budget cuts it down to one.

Mary McComas, chief academic officer, said at the Jan. 24 meeting they strategically made cuts in areas like Advanced Academics since it’s lower on the priority list. For example, they “totally eliminated“ resource teachers in the office of career readiness, she said.

Meanwhile, the district plans to expand in areas like its English for Speakers of Other Languages Program, special education and community schools, which connect students to support services such as health care.

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Board member Julie Henn noted in a Feb. 4 Facebook post that the budget proposes to spend $30.8 million to fund the pay raises for all school unions that the superintendent and County Executive Johnny Olszewski agreed to back in September.

The system is also gearing up to grow its all-day pre-K program as mandated by the state.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, state legislation that brings money to public schools, calls for systems to implement all-day pre-K in more schools so low-income families have free day care for their 3- and 4-year-olds. Before this school year, there were six schools with the all-day program. Three more schools were added this school year, and 18 more will be added next school year, according to staff.

With the expansion comes more staffing. Currently, pre-K classes have a teacher, paraeducators and helpers. Next school year, the helper will be replaced with a paraeducator position in every pre-K classroom. The system plans to add 104 full-time paraeducators and 22 pre-K teachers.

The state now requires the paraeducator to have at least an Associate of Arts degree or a Child Development Associate credential by the 2025-26 school year.

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“BCPS will offer cohort programs for paraeducators interested in obtaining an AA or CDA in order to remain in the prekindergarten classroom,” the budget document read.

Helpers can remain in the classroom until a paraeducator is hired or they meet the paraeducator requirement.

Jeannette Young, head of the union that represents paraeducators, said the new requirement is what’s best for students. Many of her members are already qualified. For those who are not, Young said they will have opportunities to find jobs in other locations within the system.

This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Jeannette Young’s first name.

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