Baltimore County teachers told the school board Tuesday night that they need help dealing with their students who are in crisis because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a public hearing on the proposed budget for the coming year, the teachers pleaded with the school board to ask the county for more money to pay for mental health professionals and social workers.
“I am not prepared as a teacher to help students process the grief of losing a family member, a parent, a friend or a classmate to COVID and many of our students will need just that,” said Beverly Folkoff, a special education teacher at Relay Elementary School in Halethope. “I’m also not prepared to help a family that has lost income and finds themselves food-insecure, homeless, or at the end of their rope.”
Marcie Cooke, a math teacher at the Crossroads Center, an alternative school in Middle River, told the board this has been the most traumatic year they’ve faced.
“Students and staff are going to need support staff more than ever when we move into the next school year,” Cooke said. “Loss of lives, economic struggle, mental illness and addiction issues are soaring due to the pandemic.”
The economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are driving School Superintendent Darryl Williams’ proposed $1.77 billion budget. His spending plan is less than 2% above this year’s budget. It contains no new teaching positions or major initiatives.
Teachers told the school board the one new support position in the budget falls far short of what is needed for students.
“We know as a result of this pandemic, many of them are dealing with mental health issues and their needs will need to be met,” said Kelly Garrison, a 1st grade teacher at Villa Cresta Elementary School in Parkville.
Teachers also complained that there is little money in the budget to increase their take home pay.
When Williams presented his budget to the school board last week, he said the needs of the school system continue to rise.
“The pandemic has stretched resources to the breaking point, especially with regards to our most vulnerable populations,” Williams said.
Also, the school board told administration officials Tuesday it could not examine the budget in its present form because too much is missing.
Board Vice-Chair Julie Henn said the budget members received was incomplete.
“It was missing critical data on school budgets as well as department level budgets,” Henn said.
School officials said they could not provide the usual budget details because of the November 24 ransomware attack.
Board member Lily Rowe, who said she was speaking for herself and not for the board, said school officials should ask County Executive Johnny Olszewski and the state for assistance.
Rowe said, “I don’t see why they can’t borrow staff from people and get this done.”
Rowe said the budget book provided to the school board by the administration is one third the size it was in previous years.
Mychael Dickerson, Williams’ chief of staff, said in a statement they will give to the board any additional information they are able to retrieve before the next budget work session, which is scheduled for next week.
“In addition, we will continue to answer the dozens of questions already received from several board members,” Dickerson wrote.
Henn is optimistic the administration can provide missing details by the next meeting.
“I believe they are going to put forth their best effort to make that happen,” Henn said.
The school board has to submit its budget to Olszewski by March 1.