The School Budget

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Happy New Year, which, amongst new beginnings and resolutions, marks the start of the busiest time of year for your AACPS school board. This month’s column is dedicated to sharing a few of my initial reactions to Dr. George Arlotto’s recommended budget.

Last year’s historic education funding began to chip away at a decades-long issue of restoring lost or “frozen steps,” which occurred due to lack of funding during the economic downturn. This year’s budget continues this important work, which will hopefully restore the frozen step that occurred during the 2011-2012 school year, pending negotiations with bargaining units.

If successful, this will be the third of five frozen steps restored, money that our teachers and staff worked hard for and deserve. Restoring lost steps and paying our teachers like the professionals they are is not a problem that can be fully corrected in one year. I hope that our county executive and county council will recognize this and continue to approve funding for restoring frozen steps.

While I am beyond thrilled that Dr. Arlotto has continued to recognize and act to restore frozen steps, I see this as only one of a multi-pronged problem. In order to adequately retain our veteran teachers, we must also work to restore lost experience steps. In years past, a practice was negotiated with the teacher’s union to dock years of experience off teachers new to AACPS. This practice began in response to frozen steps as a means to level the playing field. The thought at that time was that there would be inequity amongst teachers if a new teacher was paid at a rate higher than existing teachers whose annual step increase was frozen due to lack of funding.

Now that we have begun to restore frozen steps and have stopped the practice of docking experience steps, we must correct this inequity. For me, this is not only a moral imperative but also a necessary step to retain our veteran teachers. It’s a widely known fact that it costs less to retain than it does to recruit, and in a state that doesn’t train enough teachers to meet demand, why wouldn’t we do all we can to hold onto veteran teachers in whom we’ve already invested?

Next, let’s talk about the social and emotional needs of our students. Just like teacher compensation, we must continue to dig ourselves out of a hole that took decades to create. Some of our school counselors have a caseload that exceeds 700 students. The American School Counselor Association recommends a student to counselor ratio of one counselor for every 250 students. This budget continues to chip away at this problem and provide our students with the support they need. Don’t be surprised if the Board amends the budget, as it did last year, to add additional school counselors, social workers and school psychologists to the 17 positions already included in Dr. Arlotto’s recommended budget.

Could you thrive in middle or high school math or English class with upwards of 40 of your peers? Me neither. Just like last year, this year’s budget continues to make inroads to providing our students learning environments necessary to thrive. Although we have a long way to go before we can put this issue to bed, I am grateful for the 195 positions already included in the budget that address ever-increasing enrollment and reduce class sizes. I am considering amending this figure to add even more teaching positions.

I realize I have hardly touched on the thousands of line items in this 427-page budget. However, I hope I’ve provided some insight to my thoughts about this year’s budget. I am always available to listen to your concerns, which I hope you will share with me and my colleagues. Please advocate for what’s important to you. You can send written testimony to boardoffice@aacps.org and request that it be sent to all members, or testify in person at any scheduled Board meeting or budget hearing. As always, please email me at dschallheim@aacps.org if I can be of assistance.

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