School board requests more counselors, bus study
Draft operating budget goes to county for review
The county Board of Education, by a 9-2 vote last week, asked the county to fund an additional 37 positions in next year’s $1.6 billion operating budget with a focus on additional social workers and guidance counselors.
The proposed additions are estimated to cost more than $3.5 million, and if funded by County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, would increase the proposed operating budget prepared by school Superintendent Dallas Dance by less than half of one percent.
Amended and approved with the requests by board members, Dance’s budget now moves to the county for further review before going to the County Council for a public hearing in April and a final vote in May.
There are no guarantees that the requests will ultimately be funded, said board member David Uhlfelder. The operating budget is already six percent above the mandated minimum amount and has historically been trimmed to about four percent during the final review, he said.
The county executive, who controls county spending, funds more than half of the school operating budget. The council can cut from the budget but not add to it.
Topping the list of school board funding requests was an estimated $1.4 million request by school board member Kathleen Causey, who represents the 3rd District covering northern Baltimore County, to hire an additional 23 guidance counselors.
Residents have recently con- tacted the school board about the need for more counselors and social workers in lower-income schools. Hiring additional support staff for students will also free up time for teachers to stay focused on academic issues, Causey said.
Also personnel related was a request by school board vice-chair Marisol Johnson (2nd District), who represents the Randallstown area, to hire 12 more social workers – 10 for middle schools and two at the high school level. Johnson estimated the cost at $853,000.
Board member June Eaton, who represents the 7th Council District that includes Dundalk and Essex, supported Johnson’s request. Eaton said students can’t learn properly if they’re dealing with family problems or don’t have enough to eat.
Stephen Verch, who represents the 6th Council District that includes Middle River, won support to add a budget analyst position. The analyst would help board members evaluate the school department’s large and complex budget. The position was requested last year but was not funded, Verch said.
Also asking for a single additional position was board member Nicholas Stewart, who represents the 1st Council District that includes Catonsville. Stewart requested a new workforce development coordinator position.
The job would involve coordinating the school system’s seven existing workforce-related programs and also working with out
side programs. “Baltimore County public schools would benefit from having a central point of contact responsible for coordinating programs and efforts internally across all offices and externally with government partners in order to ensure the most effective and efficient use of resources,” said Stewart in a resolution.
Recently appointed board member Julie Henn, who lives in Per- ry Hall and serves at large, won support for two requests, both related to overcrowding.
Henn asked that $1 million be added to the operating budget for contracted transportation services to reduce overcrowding on buses, a situation that she says has resulted in students falling off seats and sitting in the aisles.
Henn also asked that $250,000 be added to hire an independent contractor to do a one-time evaluation of enrollment and projected enrollment at schools around the county. The results would be compared to the school system’s evaluation, which is a factor in deciding where to build new schools and additions to accommodate growth.
Parents at Perry Hall Middle School have come before the board several times, including Tuesday night, to report problems with overcrowding, which they say are projected to get worse in the years ahead as enrollment increases.
A request for a one-year freeze on the phased implementation of the S.T.A.T. program presented by at-large board member Ann Miller did not win support from a majority of the board.
The S.T.A.T. initiative, which provides students with computers to use in their coursework, has been funded by Dance at the expense of academic programs, Miller said.
The initiative is halfway through the third year of implementation and there’s still no quantifiable evidence that the investment so far is improving student performance, she said.
Board member Causey supported Miller’s request, saying money could also be saved on the purchase of computer devices, but the request failed to win majority support of the board.