Howard County Schools Plan Virtual Learning Program for 2022

(TNS) – Closing a second budget season amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Howard County School Board on Thursday adopted an operating budget of $ 942 million for the next fiscal year.

Fiscal year 2022 budget is $ 24 million more than the 2021 spending plan, allowing for an increase in special education staff, student support staff and a new education center digital.

“These are never easy processes,” Howard County Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said after the budget was passed. “I thank our County Executive and County Council for their partnership, the allocation of additional dollars and the confidence they have in [the board] as an elected body to do the right thing. “

As part of its $ 942.6 million spending plan, the school board adopted funding in the amount of $ 640.8 million from the county, $ 282.5 million from the state, $ 410,000 federal funding and $ 18.9 million from other sources – including $ 12 million from school system fund balances.

The budget passed 5-1 (student member Zach Koung cannot vote on budget matters and member Vicky Cutroneo was absent for personal reasons). The only dissenter was MP Christina Delmont-Small, who voted no on all budget motions.

Delmont-Small disagreed with the council using the money from the fund balance for recurring costs rather than one-time costs without the district having a plan to fund “ongoing expenses” in the future. which she believes violates council policy. The board also used money from its fund balance in fiscal 2020 and 2021.

“I am happy that our funding authorities have provided additional funding. However, it is not enough, and it has created – in my opinion – the problem of using the fund balance, taking money. ad hoc and its use for recurring funds, ”Delmont-Small mentioned. “I’m extremely concerned that next year … we’re going to have an even more difficult time than we did this year. We’re going to have to figure out how we’re going to close the gap that we created by using the fund balance. “

Thursday’s vote came a day after the county council approved its $ 2.18 billion operating and capital budget and returned a $ 930.6 million spending plan for the school system. The council’s decision to use $ 12 million out of its $ 13.2 million balance – unused money from previous years – brought the budget total to $ 942.6 million.

One of the main talking points this budget season revolved around County Funding and Sustaining the Effort, a state formula that dictates the minimum amount of money the county must provide to the school system.

In April, Howard County Director Calvin Ball released his budget proposal, which included an increase of $ 12.5 million from last year’s approved spending plan, but was also 37, $ 6 less than the school board asked for. Most of that increase, however, was a one-time use of $ 10 million for the district health fund deficit.

However, in mid-May, Ball changed its budget to include an additional $ 4 million for the school system, and on Wednesday the county council approved an additional $ 4 million – $ 2.5 million for the deficit. from the district health fund and $ 1.5 million for the operating budget.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and fluctuating enrollment in Maryland’s school systems, the state legislature passed a bill earlier this year not to hold districts accountable for declines in enrollment this year school. This means that last fall’s original projection for sustaining the effort based on declining school system enrollment in 2020-2021 was about $ 18 million lower than the actual figure of $ 620.3 million. dollars, calculated based on district registrations in 2019-20.

County funding for the school system ended up being $ 20.5 million more than last year and $ 10.5 million above the sustaining effort – the largest in seven years.

“Education is still our top priority, with historically high funding for the school system, community colleges and the library system,” Ball said in a statement Wednesday.

“It’s a difficult and sometimes emotional process,” Education Council Chairman Chao Wu said. “I thank the County Director, Dr Ball and the County Council for the additional funding for us. . We must continue to advocate for our school system and how we are going to maintain it and grow. “

While every budget process is arduous, this year has not lived up to the challenges posed last spring. The fiscal year 2021 budget process began before COVID-19 took hold and ended in the early months of the pandemic after the virus caused schools to close. Last year, the board renegotiated its contract with the teachers’ union and removed salary increases, increased the class size of an average student and emptied his balance of funds.

A similarity between the fiscal year 2022 budget and spending plans in recent years is an increase in special education staff. The school board added 106 special education jobs last year, and this year’s budget includes 70.7 new special education positions.

“What you have adopted tonight enables us to address critical shortages in special education,” Martirano said.

The budget includes 27 pooled posts, which Jahantab Siddiqui, the district administrative director said, should “support changes and fluctuations in enrollment while maintaining class sizes.” The spending plan also adds 20 student support positions, including 11 school counselors, five social workers, three student staff employees and a school psychologist. Five additional technology positions and four and a half reading specialist roles were also added.

“It was a tough budget, and while we’re not sitting here to determine if we are reducing class sizes or if we need to change the workload of our teachers, we have made substantial changes,” Jen said. Mallo, vice-president of the Board of Education. “I think we are on the right track. We have made a significant commitment to mental health.”

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Although the Digital Education Center, a virtual learning program independent of the pandemic, is funded within the budget, it is much smaller than what was initially offered. When the initiative was included in the board’s proposed budget in February, it included a total of 75 teaching, para-educator and administrator positions. In the adopted budget, however, only 12 posts were added for the center.

Other reductions in the spending plan – compared to the council’s February proposal, not the 2021 budget – include not adding designated general education staff due to declining enrollment in the district during COVID-19 and not to completely eliminate the health fund deficit. The budget does not include downsizing, program reductions, or class size increases, while it funds contractual step increases for educators in the system. Staff salaries and benefits represent about 86 percent of the district’s operating budget.

The budget also fully funds the district’s projected health care costs for the fourth consecutive fiscal year, which the district failed to do in several budgets prior to Martirano’s tenure that began in 2017. The failure at early and mid-2010s led to nearly $ 40 million. the shortfall in the health and dental care fund, which has plagued the district since, threatening the county’s AAA bond rating in 2019 and leading to an increase in curriculum and class sizes in schools. The deficit, which was reduced by $ 33 million last year, is now $ 6.2 million.

In other areas, the school board has approved its 2022 capital budget, capital improvement plan, and long-term master plan.

The council approved a capital budget of $ 90.4 million, including $ 57 million from the county and $ 33 million in public funding, for the continued replacement of Talbott Springs Elementary, the renovation of Hammond High and the construction of 13th county high school in Jessup.

The board also approved a $ 373 million capital improvement program for fiscal years 2023 to 2027 and a long-term master plan of $ 926 million for 2022 to 2031. Plans include renovations at Dunloggin Middle, Oakland Mills Middle and Centennial High, and the construction of two new elementary schools (43rd and 44th in the county) later this decade and a 14th high school, which could be in Elkridge.

© 2021 the Howard County Times (Columbia, Maryland). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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