Baltimore County Superintendent Dallas Dance has recently requested the largest budget increase the county has seen in a decade.
Dance's request is part of a $1.74 billion budget, which would cover a 5% pay increase for teachers and staff, the first cost-of-living increase to be given in five years. In addition, the budget would be used to purchase additional student computers, as well as designating funds to hire teachers for students whose first language is not English.
Historically the district has spent less per pupil than any other large school district in Maryland.
School superintendents in the Baltimore region are trying to create budgets that balance the demands of state and local governments against the increasing enrollment of the growing low-income and immigrant populations.
The request is a $75.2 million increase over 2015's fiscal budget, which is 6.5% above the maintenance of effort requirement, a state law requiring local jurisdictions to offer funding for education, writes Lauren Loricchio for The Baltimore Sun.
"We're looking at, over the next 10 years, roughly 7,600 additional students," Dance said in a briefing before the budget was announced at the public meeting. "Of course, with additional students we have to add teachers, additional supports and seats."
While the bulk of the budget will go towards 130 construction projects, additional monies will be used for the creation of 84 additional full-time positions. Of those, 26 will be positions needed for a new elementary school opening in the northwest part of the county.
Counselors will also be added to 13 elementary schools that have over 700 students, in order to ensure the schools have two counselors on staff.
Of the operating funding expenditures, 84% will go toward increasing staff salaries and benefits. The new increase would include an additional $42.3 million for cost of living, which Dance said makes up 91.5% of the increase above maintenance effort.
Also included in the request was $13.6 million to help roll out the second phase of Students and Teachers Accessing Tomorrow (STAT), an initiative that hopes to create 21st century learning environments within each school. The additional funding would provide digital conversions for all elementary schools for the first, second and third grades.
Digital conversion is currently being tested in 10 Lighthouse schools. The second phase will bring the expansion into the fourth and fifth grade levels within the 10 Lighthouse schools.
About $10 million will go toward the purchase of new books, digital content, and curriculum materials that will support the new English, math, and science standards in the state.
In addition, the state would like to continue a program started last year that added 200 seats to its pre-kindergarten program, currently serving 3,000 children. In order to ensure the program continues, Dance said the state would need $600,000 and 15.5 new full-time employees. Because there is no guarantee of the grant's continuing availability, there are no plans for future expansion of the program.
The Board of Education is expected to vote on the budget on February 3. If approved, the budget will then be reviewed by Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz on Feb. 27.