Acting Howard County Schools Superintendent Bill Barnes proposed a $1.13 billion spending plan Thursday afternoon, setting up what is to be a “difficult budget process.”

The school system must overcome a $103.8 million gap to balance the budget.

“While difficult, we need to make significant changes now to put the school system on a more fiscally sustainable path, not just for the coming year but beyond as we continue to see mandated increases in the years to come,” Barnes said Thursday.

Barnes became the acting superintendent last week after Michael J. Martirano suddenly announced his retirement in November. Martirano’s last day was Jan. 10, marking 18 months into a four-year contract that would have ended in June 2026.

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He left just ahead of what’s shaping up to be a challenging process. Here are three things to know about next year’s school budget.

The school system is asking the county for an extra $47 million

The $103.8 million budget gap is broken into two parts. The $32.1 million deficit piece “is due largely to the use of one-time funds in last year’s budget,” Barnes said. However, adding to the gap is $71.7 million, for necessary increased expenditures.

Also, the school system’s enrollment is declining, which means less money. The school system receives a certain amount of money per student, and with fewer students that means lower contributions from the county and state.

To close the gap, Barnes is proposing cutting $46.6 million from the proposed spending plan, asking the county government for an additional $47 million and using $10.2 million of available cash.

The school system plans to eliminate 348 jobs

Barnes is proposing eliminating 348 staff positions across the district.

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On Thursday, Barnes and other central office staff met with employees whose positions would be eliminated by the budget proposal. Next steps include meeting with groups of employees whose roles may be impacted.

“We know the shift in process is extremely difficult and often unnerving for hundreds of staff who are currently learning that their positions are being prepared to be eliminated,” Barnes said.

Barnes added it’s possible more jobs could be eliminated. Howard schools’ leadership will work with unions to find solutions and support potentially impacted staff.

“As we engage in what will be a difficult set of conversations over the next several months … I ask that all conversations occur with respect and compassion,” Barnes said.

Running the school system costs more

“While revenues are decreasing, the cost to operate the school system is growing in areas including health insurance, the Blueprint mandates as well as other priorities,” Barnes said.

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Legal mandates tied to the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, which is education reform legislation, include prekindergarten expansion and instructional technology funding.

Items that fall into the priorities budget include funding nearly 52 new special education positions and employee compensation increases.

What comes next?

For the next few weeks, the Howard County Board of Education will work through the proposed spending plan. County residents will have a chance to comment on the proposal Jan. 25, after which the school board will have at least four work sessions.

The school board is anticipated to adopt the budget Feb. 29 before sending it to the county executive’s office for review. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball will present his own budget to the county council in April. Once Ball’s proposal is released, the school board will conduct additional work sessions and public hearings, if needed.

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“It is important to note that the proposed [fiscal year] 2025 operating budget shared today is based on revenue assumptions and information that is currently available,” Barnes said.

There are three primary sources of funds for the schools budget: requested county funding, state aid and the allotment of the school system’s unassigned fund balance. “All of them can and will likely change between now and May,” Barnes said.

After the council adopts a final county budget, including funding for the school system, the school board will adopt its final operating budget at the end of May.

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