The Howard County school board on Thursday unanimously approved a $1.5 billion operating budget.

While the board and school system faced a difficult budget season that included lengthy public hearings and work sessions, it took less than five minutes for the board to vote on the spending plan. There was no discussion from board members.

Acting Superintendent Bill Barnes congratulated the board on “completing a very productive, albeit difficult” budget process.

“It was certainly not easy work. But we worked together instituting new processes that were grounded in collaboration, transparency, and we will refine and improve these processes in the coming year,” said Barnes, who was also named permanent superintendent effective July 1.

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When Barnes introduced his budget proposal in January, the school system faced a budget gap that topped $100 million. School leaders faced difficult choices about whether to cut positions and popular programs.

Over the next few months, the board restored elementary gifted and talented programs, third grade strings, the mathematics engineering science achievement program and positions within grounds, legal and purchasing departments, Barnes recounted.

“While we celebrate the process, I know the outcomes are certainly not ideal,” Barnes said. “We were not able to restore all positions that were set to be eliminated. Over the next several weeks, we’ll continue to work with staff impacted by the reductions.”

Class sizes were also increased at the middle and high school levels.

Earlier this week, the school board approved balancing the budget, which included increasing the system’s compensation bucket for its bargaining units by $7.17 million. While negotiations with units are still taking place, the board now has $33 million to provide, instead of the original $25.82 million.

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To balance the budget, the board also voted to increase the projected use of the annual fund balance by roughly $5.1 million.

During teacher appreciation week earlier this month, instructors rallied outside of central office in frustration over salary negotiations with the school board. The teachers union heads back to the table with the school board Friday.

The County Council approved its $2.4 billion budget Wednesday afternoon. After a series of public hearings and work sessions, the council made minimal changes to the spending plan that County Executive Calvin Ball introduced last month.

The county budget included $766 million for the school system’s operating budget. The county portion is $52 million above what it is legally required to provide under the state’s Maintenance of Effort law — which mandates that funding per pupil be equal to or greater than what was provided in the previous year.

Council Vice Chair Liz Walsh attempted to provide an additional $3.8 million to the school system, but the motion failed 1-4. The additional money would have closed the gap between what the school board sought from Ball in March and what he proposed to the council in April.

The school board also approved a $75.7 million capital budget for fiscal year 2025.