When Howard County schools officials presented the superintendent’s $1.13 billion spending plan last week, they repeatedly referenced a 600-page budget book.

Wanting to be as transparent as possible, acting Howard County Public School System Superintendent Bill Barnes wondered how the school system could make the budget process easier to follow, particularly the massive spending plan. Schools officials came up with a digital toolkit.

“I want the public to have a space where they can focus their attention on the documents front and center in the [school board] work sessions,” Barnes said in an interview. “I’m striving for clarity.”

The Howard County Public School System released a digital toolkit where the public can easily access important pages of the 600-page budget book. (Howard County Public Schools)

The toolkit is a slimmed-down version of the budget, Barnes said. Located on the school system’s website, the toolkit includes documents related to proposed additions and eliminations to the budget, information regarding what factors influence the process, a message from the superintendent and more.

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Like the budget process, the toolkit will evolve as time goes on. Barnes plans to include documents from school board members, adding that his proposal “is just one way to balance the budget.”

Schools officials face a “difficult budget process” as they work with the Howard County Board of Education to close a $103.8 million gap to balance the budget. Four school board budget work sessions are scheduled for the coming weeks; the first one is Monday at 1 p.m.

Barnes took the helm of the school system on Jan. 10, after Superintendent Michael Martirano retired.

To address the shortfall, Barnes is proposing $46.6 million in cuts, asking the county government for an additional $47 million and using $10.2 million of available cash.

The first of two public hearings ahead of the anticipated Feb. 29 budget adoption is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. The public hearing took place in the Homewood Center after a burning odor was detected in the school board building. However, the Feb. 29 adoption is not the final step. From there, the budget goes to the county executive’s desk and then to the County Council.

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

This story has been updated regarding the location of Thursday’s public hearing.

This story has been updated to provide the correct amount of the Howard County schools superintendent's proposed budget.

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