After a baffling work session Tuesday evening, the Howard County Board of Education ended without adopting a fiscal year 2025 budget. The board will pick up where they left off at a meeting Thursday.

There were plenty of budget votes Tuesday. So why didn’t the school board adopt one?

The answer: The board couldn’t reach a consensus on any of the budget proposals, including one they had hammered out a week prior.

A motion to approve the school board’s operating budget request — which included scaling back the potential number of staff cuts by nearly half of what Acting Superintendent William J. Barnes proposed and eliminating a proposed class size increase — failed 2-4 during Tuesday’s work session.

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School board member Antonia Watts was not present for any of the budget motion votes. She appeared online for roughly 30 minutes of the virtual meeting and then left.

Confusion permeated the work session. Several board members repeatedly asked for clarification on the budget process and questioned aspects of the spending plan.

At one point, it was suggested that the board throw away all of its work from the week prior and “start at ground zero.” That suggestion was voted down.

During the discussion, school board member Jolene Mosley said, “It feels like a dream. Like a bad dream, and I am pretty disappointed in our conversation right now.”

“I don’t understand why we did all of that time, all of that planning, all of that work and then it’s a ‘no’ because specific programs didn’t get the votes that individual board members wanted, when we know we will come around and talk about it again,” Mosley said. “We’re a team and we have to work together.”

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When Barnes released his proposed spending plan in January, he said it would be a “difficult budget process.” Barnes proposed a $1.13 billion spending plan that addressed a $103.8 million budget gap. The gap has since slightly fallen to $99.3 million, based on updated revenue numbers from the state.

Barnes on Tuesday thanked school board members for their engagement, adding: “You’ve been very clear on your values and what you’re advocating for. I think the time for compromises is now … [and] I’m hoping that you take the time between now and Thursday to clear up what those things are for you and work with me over the next two months to understand what happens if we are not funded at that level.”

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

Tuesday’s meeting was originally scheduled as a budget adoption. Then, on Monday night, the school system sent out news releases saying a last-minute work session had been scheduled and “the budget adoption will only be rescheduled if it is not concluded by the end of the March 5th virtual work session.”

That “if” became reality Tuesday night.

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The school board is scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon to continue budget discussions and adopt a spending plan.

At the close of Tuesday’s work session, School Board Chair Jen Mallo thanked board members for their dedication and said, “Let’s keep in mind that we are doing this for our children and it’s really about them.”