School Board Sends Big Budget to Olszewski
The Baltimore County School Board Tuesday night approved a budget to send to the county executive. It includes a pay raise for teachers and money to extend the school day by 15 minutes WYPR’s John Lee was there and talked about it with Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner.
Sterner: John, what passed is the first budget proposed by interim school superintendent Verletta White, as opposed to the second, much smaller budget she was instructed to submit?
Lee: That’s right, with an increase of more than 11 percent in county money. There was a flurry of motions to make small changes to the budget, some added to the budget, some were cuts. Some passed, some didn’t. Board members were looking for ways to save money, in response to county executive Johnny Olszewski’s in-person plea to the board several weeks ago to try to find savings as he deals with an $81 million shortfall. But they got strong resistance from White and her staff. At one point White chided the board for considering cuts to instruction when the school system is an instructional institution. White was concerned that the board was making cuts without knowing the ramifications. The teachers union put a lot of pressure on the board to raise pay and add positions. So Abbey Beytin, who is the head of the teachers union, is happy with how things turned out.
Beytin: “And we were trying to move it so that we could take it to the county executive and work from there.”
Lee: And that’s because Olszewski can make changes to the school budget.
Sterner: How about the county’s STAT program, which puts computers in the hands of every student? Olszewski and others have proposed rolling that back to save money. Did the board debate that?
Lee: Most definitely. This is a debate that’s been simmering for years, from the school board to Facebook. Opponents of STAT says it was rushed into place and hasn’t shown much in the way of results. There was a proposal to switch to less expensive chrome books through the eighth grade. Board chairwoman Kathleen Causey supported that proposal.
Causey: “The fact is that this program was not properly piloted. Was in fact a vast implementation without data.”
Lee: Opponents of STAT say that money could have been better spent on teachers, curriculum and fixing schools. But Interim Superintendent White pushed back on the notion that middle schoolers can use chrome books. She and her staff said the devices are not sophisticated enough for the middle school curriculum which at times calls for some heavy duty software. And White questioned whether the board members who opposed STAT had given much thought to how rolling it back could affect things like curriculum and teacher workload, as well as poor students who can’t afford computers. In the end, the board voted to leave STAT in place, with just one change in how many kindergartners would share a device.
And Nathan, near the end of this very long discussion, White suggested that the opposition to her budget from some board members is rooted in their disdain for former school superintendent Dallas Dance, who implemented STAT. Dance, of course, served jail time after pleading guilty to perjury for lying about money he received for consulting work. White said it isn’t fair to punish the school system for Dance’s actions.
White: “We are not him. He is not us. We are BCPS.”
Stener: So what now?
Lee: Now Olszewski has some tough decisions to make. He has to do something about the county’s budget shortfall. But you’ll recall he’s a former teacher. He made a lot of promises about spending money on education. So what the school board did Tuesday night was hand him a big budget and dared him to cut it.