Dance unveils $1.4 billion budget proposal for Baltimore County Public Schools

TOWSON, Md. - Baltimore County school Superintendent Dallas Dance unveiled a $1.38 billion operating budget for Fiscal Year 2015 Tuesday that makes reducing achievement gaps and investing in technology among his top priorities.

The budget, which must be approved by the board of education before being sent to County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, represents $72.4 million, or 5.5 percent, increase over the FY 2014 adopted budget. The budget proposal incorporates more than $10.7 million in savings realized mainly through staff attrition and program efficiencies.

"Baltimore County's schools have been served well for much of the past decade by our funding authorities," said Dance in a statement, "but as we plan for more than 5,000 new students projected for the next decade, and as we resolve to provide for them a truly 21 st century learning environment, the time has come to be bold. The time has come to invest in our children once again."

Much of the budget increase comes from the continued anticipated growth in student enrollment. Dance said student enrollment has grown 4.6 percent since 2008. Also, the school system is dealing with an ever-increasing number of poor and homeless students.

Since the 2002-2003 school year, the number of students eligible for free and reduced-price meals has risen by nearly 60 percent and the number of homeless students has risen by more than 222 percent.

To deal with these issues, Dance's budget includes 89.5 new school-based positions to address enrollment growth, 15 additional staff to support homeless and special education transportation and four more school counselors.

The budget also requests staffing for the new Mays Chapel Elementary School, set to open in August, and start-up costs for a new planned elementary school in the county's northwest area.

If approved, the budget would for the first time in four years exceed funding the state Maintenance of Effort formula.

To target student achievement, the budget proposal includes $6.8 million in additional funding, much of which will pay for a $1 million expansion of pre-kindergarten programs and for $1 million in accelerated mathematics programming for students.

Still, 85 percent of the budget proposal will go toward salaries, wages and benefits costs. The proposal includes $22 million in increases to employee health and retirement benefits and $14.1 million for salary increments – with other items more than $42.3 million in built-in costs. The system will devote $24.2 million to salary adjustments for prospective bargaining unit adjustments.

Other items in the budget includes  $4 million for completion of wireless capabilities in all classrooms, $3.2 million in additional school safety and security improvements and $2.1 million to begin implementing the system's instructional digital conversion.   

The board of education will hold a public hearing on the budget proposal at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at West Towson Elementary School, 6914 Charles St. in Towson. The board is expected to vote on the budget at its Feb. 11 meeting and it will go before the county executive for his review by March 1.

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