Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski last night appeared before the school board to give them a sobering presentation on the county budget. And part of his message to the board was that it will be years before three new high schools can be built in Baltimore County.
WYPR’s John Lee was there and spoke with Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner about what happened.
Sterner: It’s unusual for the county executive to address the board.
Lee: Yes, Olszewski himself said his presence was extraordinary, but he added these are extraordinary times. He told the school board that next year’s county budget is currently $81 million in the red, and that shortfall only grows in the years ahead. And Olszewski told the board that’s just based on what they’re paying for now.
Olszewski: “They do not account for our new high schools that are so sorely needed. They do not account for pay raises for our teachers. They do not account for pre-kindergarten programs, additional support personnel, all things that I very much support.”
Lee: And by the way, all things he promised while campaigning last year. He told the board this is not the message he wanted to be delivering in his first months in office.
Sterner: What does Olszewski say he’s doing to try to dig the county out of the fiscal hole it’s in?
Lee: For one thing, he said the county usually gets around $45 million a year from the state for school construction. He is asking the state to more than double that over the next five years. Olszewski said that would allow the county to finish its ongoing $1.6 billion school building and renovation program on time.
Olszewski also has a commission that is studying how the county goes about putting together its budget to look for possible savings. And he pitched the school board to help out as well as it goes through its budget.
Olszewski: “To find efficiencies and innovations so we can continue to focus our resources where they’re most needed.”
But after Olszewski left, Tom DeHart, the executive director of CASE, the Council of Administrative and Supervisory Employees, which represents principals and supervisors, said not so fast.
DeHart: “Don’t cut from the budget because you feel that the executive or the county council might cut it. This is a large budget but it’s modest in additional requests.”
Lee: DeHart requested the school board pass Interim Superintendent Verletta White’s budget as is, with no cuts.
Sterner: So where does this leave Towson, Lansdowne and Dulaney High Schools? Building those three new schools was a cornerstone of Olszewski’s campaign for county executive.
Lee: In his public comments to the board, Olszewski did not mention those schools specifically. But later, Interim Superintendent White said she and board members had received a letter from the county executive, which made it clear that even the design for these new schools will not start until 2025.
White: “And I just want to be straight and honest and clear with the public and with the board as well. What this means is that if we’re starting planning and designing in 2025, it takes three to five years to build a high school. The doors will not open on that new high school until 2030.”
Lee: Also White, at the direction of the chair and vice chair of the school board, has made cuts to her proposed operating budget.
The school board will adopt a budget next month, but it will be up to the county executive and county council to fund it. Olszewski will present his proposed budget to council in April.
Now Olszewski continues his road show to explain to county residents the bleak budget situation. He is holding seven town halls throughout the county. He held one earlier and the second Wednesday night at the Randallstown Community Center, beginning at 6:30.
One other thing, Nathan. No move was made last night, at least publicly, to start a nationwide search for a permanent school superintendent. Interim superintendent White’s contract runs through June 30.