When the Howard County school board votes on its fiscal year 2025 budget, there is little doubt that board members will eliminate a large number of staff positions as they seek to close a $103.8 million budget gap.

The question is, how many?

The $1.13 billion budget released by Acting Superintendent Bill Barnes in January called for eliminating nearly 350 positions across the district. But when school board members gathered for their budget work session on Feb. 29, they reduced that potential figure to about 180 positions.

Still, nothing is official until the budget is approved. And even then, things can still change based on how much funding the school system receives from the county and state.

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The school board was scheduled to adopt its budget on Tuesday March 5, but the district announced in a series of news releases Monday night that the the vote may be rescheduled and that the board is now holding a virtual work session. “The budget adoption will only be rescheduled if it is not concluded by the end of the March 5th virtual work session,” the news release states.

Barnes, who took the helm of the district after Superintendent Michael J. Martirano retired Jan. 10, has handled the budget process a little differently.

While superintendents in past years would present what many called an “aspirational budget” each winter, Barnes did away with that practice and instead focused on the harsh reality facing the district: a $103.8 million budget gap.

Barnes’ budget called for deep spending cuts, including to staff and popular school programs.

While he proposed $46.6 million in cuts to existing services, he also suggested asking the county government for an additional $47 million and using $10.2 million in available cash.

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Schools officials have stressed that potentially affected staffers may be able to stay on with the school system. Employees who have additional certifications in teaching or school-based administration positions “will have options and opportunities to remain with HCPSS in some capacity. For that we are grateful,” said Brian Bassett, a schools spokesman, in a statement.

The superintendent also suggested increasing class sizes by two students, a move that drew sharp criticism from some in the community. The school board decided to do away with the class size increase, which means it likely will need to ask the county for additional money.

This year’s budget process has gotten a strong response from the community.

“In all my years with the Howard County Public School System, I have never seen this level of involvement by our stakeholders. I ask that you don’t let up now. Stay engaged with all of us and our partners at the county,” Barnes said during the Feb. 26 public hearing. He thanked staff, students and community members for being so engaged the past few weeks.

Union members packed the hearing wearing green T-shirts and carrying signs that read, “Support Your Staff,” “Protect Our Jobs,” and “Students Need Us.”

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The signs were being held by more than 60 members of the union that represents the school system’s grounds, maintenance, custodial and some IT staff. The budget proposal takes aim at some of these staff positions.

Anthony Fulmore, the secretary of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1899, spoke on behalf of roughly 400 employees at the hearing.

“Cutting positions is wrong,” Fulmore said. “The schools will be dirtier and not well-kept if you cut custodians. My colleagues feel ignored, unsupported, unresourced and uncomprehensive.”

“These cuts save only $2.3 million, which is less than 1% of this system’s operating budget. Is it worth having unmaintained and dirty buildings for less than 1%? We don’t think so.”

Prior to the hearing, the AFSCME members joined Howard County Education Association members for a rally.

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Ben Schmitt, president of the HCEA, the system’s teachers’ union, said he was “very concerned with the [proposed staffing] cuts. I’m very concerned with where the cuts are coming from. … There aren’t enough cuts in central office leadership.”

“We are advocating for the school board to ask for more funding. Once the board adopts their budget and sends it to the county government, there can’t be additional money put on top of that,” Schmitt said in an interview ahead of the rally. “We aren’t shooting for the moon, but shooting for what our students need and deserve and what our staff needs and deserves.”

After the school board adopts its budget, County Executive Calvin Ball will review the school board’s spending plan before presenting it to the County Council. After the council adopts a final county budget, including funding for the district, the school board will adopt a final operating budget at the end of May.

Correction: A previous version of this story indicated the school board's vote on the budget would be rescheduled; the Howard County Public School System clarified its previous statement in a press release late Monday that the vote could still happen at the end of its virtual work session.

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