The Board of Education budget meeting occurred on Wednesday, February 19, and was a marathon. By 1:30am Thursday morning, both the Fiscal Year 2021 capital and operating budgets were finalized. Overall, I am pleased with what we collectively put together.
I fought for well-thought-out and carefully targeted reductions in spending presented by my colleague, because I deeply care about how our taxpayer dollars are spent. Unfortunately, my colleagues didn't agree and both measured attempts to control spending — as well as a more realistic budget for teaching positions — failed. Although few were successful, I also voted on cuts during last year's budget and will again in the future to ensure our precious and limited resources are focused on our students and limit, as much as possible, bloat in other categories.
For a second year running, this board recognized the importance of properly compensating our teachers who have the awesome task of educating our students. The Board of Education included an additional equivalent of a 1% cost of living increase (COLA) to all employees in addition to Dr. George Arlotto’s compensation recommendation. These extra funds, while still subject to approval by both the county executive and county council, as well as negotiations with the teacher’s union, can be used to address mutually agreed upon priorities including rectifying longstanding pay inequities.
One possible use of the funds is the restoration of docked experience steps. Since FY2010 and until this academic year, teachers were docked one to three years of experience upon hiring as a way to create equity between new hires and veteran employees whose steps were frozen during the economic downturn. Now that those lean economic times are behind us, it’s important to consider restoring these steps before these teachers, and all their experience, leave for better-paying jobs in nearby counties. We all know that retention costs less than recruitment, and making these teachers whole by paying them in accordance with their years of experience should be a part of our retention strategy.
Amendments passed by the Board of Education included additional school counselors, special education staff, community ambassadors, bilingual facilitators, bilingual teaching assistants, and college and career counselors for three challenged high schools.
Although I must follow the will of the board and the decision made to debate amendments until what turned out to be 1:30am, I hope important budgetary decisions will be made when we are more awake going forward. These decisions potentially affect 85,000 students, and the Board of Education’s meeting to pass the budget is arguably the important meeting of the year. Each amendment and motion deserves equal and careful consideration by the board. I hope that our votes wouldn't have been different if we weren't half asleep because of the extraordinarily late hour.
The budget is now in the hands of County Executive Steuart Pittman, who will announce his countywide budget on May 1. From there, the budget will be reviewed and potentially amended by the county council, whose members will strike the county FY2021 budget by June 15. During its review process, the county council will hold two budget hearings. The first hearing will occur on May 7 at 7:00pm at North County High School. The second hearing will occur on May 11 at 7:00pm at the Arundel Center. Please contact County Executive Pittman and the county council, attend these hearings, and advocate for our schools.
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