With the pandemic in its third year, and students having learned remotely for much of the academic year since schools first closed due to COVID-19 in March 2020, investments in learning recovery, classroom and socio-emotional support, and teacher and staff retention and pay are critical areas of focus.
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams presented a $2.43 billion operating budget proposal for fiscal year 2023 to the Board of Education at its Jan. 11 meeting to address those priorities. The proposed budget, which would take effect July 1 and end June 30, 2023, seeks a 16.9% increase in funds from the county, and a 3.9 percent increase in state funding compared to FY2022. The operating budget does not include capital projects such as new schools and additions.
Williams introduced the annual spending plan to school board members by highlighting how the
pandemic has placed unprecedented stresses on student academic progress, emotional well-being, and student enrollment, which has dropped especially in the earliest grades. He also reported challenges in maintaining staff morale and hiring and retention levels. The pandemic has strained resources for vulnerable students by limiting food and nutrition programs, and changing how services were provided for students with needs for special education, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and social-emotional support. BPCS was also required to restructure its curriculum and provide training to deliver remote instruction.
With a focus on “people and progress,” he said, the budget is designed to address the issues through additional targeted positions and compensation enhancements.
New initiatives in the proposed FY2023 operating budget would require an overall increase of 381.3 full-time positions—including about 69 school counselors, social workers and assistants for health and psychological services—at a cost of $172.4 million. About $24.8 million is included in the budget for operations, such as critical maintenance and transportation.
In alignment with the school system’s recent efficiency review, Williams said BCPS will save approximately $7.7 million through cabinet reorganization and device cost reduction.
BCPS’s resources are adjusting to an increasingly diverse student body that is now 7.1% Asian, 14% Hispanic/Latino, 32.8% White and 40.4% African American/Black), the superintendent said. According to other demographics, since 2010 the number of English learners have more than tripled to about 10,265, the number of students experiencing homelessness has jumped more than 20% to 1,735, and students eligible for Free and Reduced-Price Meals (FARMS) has increased 44%. This fiscal year, the system enrolls 111,120 students including 53.9 percent who are eligible for FARMS. Officials project student enrollment to grow.
The school board is scheduled to adopt the budget at its Feb. 22 meeting. In addition to public hearings, the process includes the County Executive presenting a budget proposal to the County Council in April, before the council approves a final budget in May.