The county executive’s $4.9 billion budget proposes salary increases for county government staff, free college for households making less than $150,000, and raises for new teachers.

“The budget I am introducing today builds on our new standards of excellence — and continues our commitment to strengthen education, investing in our infrastructure and recognizing the efforts of the incredible people who make a better Baltimore County possible,” Johnny Olszewski Jr. said to a room full of county leaders and residents in Towson on Thursday.

A public hearing for the budget is April 25, and the County Council will vote to adopt it May 25.

Schools will get most, but not all, requested funds

About half of Olszewski’s budget consists of funding for Baltimore County Public Schools. The system requested $26 million more from the county than it received in fiscal 2023, but Olszewski’s budget offers only $22 million more.

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Despite the cut, Superintendent Darryl Williams called the proposal a “win” after Olszewski’s presentation.

“You always know that you put forth the ideal plan, but we also know there may be some room for not accepting everything within our budget,” he said.

Olszewski said the $4 million difference requires phasing in additional paraeducators and athletic trainers more slowly than the school system had proposed.

Back in February, school board member Rod McMillion pushed for the athletic trainers — who are certified health care professionals — to be at every high school, along with a supervisor, for $3.4 million. But Olszewski said the trainers will be phased in over two years instead of all at once.

The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, education reform legislation that gives school systems millions, calls for pre-K expansion, which includes more paraeducator positions. The system needs 104 full-time paraeducators (educators who assists the the teacher and students in the classroom) and 22 pre-K teacher positions. Olszewski’s budget allows the school system to hire all the pre-K teachers, but only 41 paraeducators in the coming school year.

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The Blueprint also calls for school systems to raise the starting salary for teachers to $60,000 by July 2026. Teachers have been demanding higher pay since the beginning of the school year. The school system agreed to boost the starting salary from $52,927 to $59,000 in February, and Olszewski said Thursday his budget has the money to fund it, pending negotiations between the teachers and school system.

It puts county teachers “on track to meet the requirements of the Blueprint years in advance,” Olszewski said.

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, said the increase will help recruit educators.

“But we need to make sure we retain the ones we have as well,” she said. “It is a bigger picture than just that starting salary.”

The budget also allots $210 million for new Lansdowne and Dulaney high school buildings, as well as a heavily renovated Towson High School.

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Free community college, new fire stations

Olszewski’s budget proposes “near-universal” free community college for any Baltimore County resident in a household making less than $150,000. It’s through a partnership with the Community College of Baltimore County.

“That means any eligible resident seeking a full-time, part-time or workforce certification program will be able to attend CCBC tuition-free,” he said.

Olszewski is also proposing over $4 million for a new Essex Police precinct, over $9 million for a new Catonsville Fire Station, and $9 million for a new Sparrows Point fire station.

Under his plan, county employees receive a 4% cost-of-living adjustment, and staff will have access to $500,000 in student loan relief. Starting salaries for police officers will be competitive with other districts if his plan is approved.

His budget provides more than $63 million for parks and open space, $30 million toward libraries — including a “potential” new one in Essex — and $40 million for road and sidewalk improvements.

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