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Olszewski Proposes Increased Spending For Schools. Council Promises To Grill Superintendent About The Budget.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski gives highlights of proposed school system budget at a news conference in Towson April 14, 2021
Sean Naron, Baltimore County
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski gives highlights of proposed school system budget at a news conference in Towson April 14, 2021

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski proposed a budget of more than $2 billion for the county schools Wednesday, a $30 million increase over the current year.

The spending plan heads to the county council, whose members are angry with School Superintendent Darryl Williams and are promising a thorough review of the budget.

Olszewski wants to keep 122 teaching positions that were going to be cut because of declining enrollment due to the COVID pandemic. Staff would also see a 2% pay raise.

He also proposed 35 additional counselors and pupil personnel workers who reach out to students who are struggling or not attending classes.

“Disparities in education lead to disparities later in life,” Olszewski said at a news conference. “And those disparities have only been magnified by the devastation of this past year.”

“Recovering will require a massive investment and unwavering commitment on behalf of the entire community,” said county school board Chairwoman Makeda Scott.

Olszewski said the budget also includes $72 million in federal funding that has not yet been allocated which the school system can use to help teachers and students.

“I know this has been a trying year for our students, their parents and teachers and for all of our school staff,” Olszewski said. “I look forward to seeing our classes full again next year.”

County Council members, who will begin reviewing the budget this week, are furious with superintendent Williams for not being upfront about the cost of November’s ransomware attack. Williams has said he can’t say much about it because the investigation is continuing.

Members also have asked for more details on how many students are failing and what’s being planned for summer school. They sent a letter last month to Williams asking for that information by Friday.

Council members say they plan to grill Williams when he appears before them to defend the proposed school budget.

Republican Councilman David Marks said Williams will face “robust discussion and extensive questions.”

The county council can cut the school system’s budget, but cannot add to it or move money around. A proposal in the 2021 General Assembly that would have given the council more authority over the school budget was withdrawn.

Also included in Olszewski’s proposed school budget are step increases for staff, and an additional 15 minutes of pay each day for educators and administrators. They can use that extra time to help students recover from the effects of nearly one year of virtual learning while school buildings were closed.

Cindy Sexton, the president of TABCO, the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, praised Olszewski’s school budget.

“The increase in staffing will help address the emotional, social, and academic needs of our students,” Sexton said in an email.

Wednesday’s school announcement was a warmup for Olzsewski, who is presenting his proposed county budget to the council on Thursday. He will make the presentation in the council chambers. Council members have not met there since last March.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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