Howard County Schools superintendent Renee Foose presented a $721 million operating budget to the Board of Education Thursday that includes cuts in transportation and supplies while adding funds to pay for new staff, higher enrollment and mandatory increases in employee benefits and retirement costs.
The proposed fiscal year 2014 budget is a 2.5 percent, or $17.4 million, increase over the fiscal year 2013 operating budget. The $489.4 million requested from the county makes up about 68 percent of the budget, and is a 1.5 percent increase from fiscal year 2013, according to Foose.
There are a total of $9.9 million in cuts from transportation funds, supplies and the elimination of 12 positions through attrition, when retirees' positions are left vacant or filled with less senior staff.
The cuts will pay for mandatory increases resulting in a shift in teacher pension costs from the state to the local level, a move mandated by the General Assembly, according to school administration.
Those costs include a $15.5 million increase in the cost of employee health and dental benefits allocated in the proposed budget. Other mandatory increases include a $3.3 million shift of pension responsibilities from the state to the county, a $537,000 increase in social security funds and a $115,000 increase for car insurance.
Included in the budget request is also the addition of about 68 positions to handle the expected enrollment growth of 550 new students.
Twenty-five positions are also proposed to staff the upcoming new elementary school that will open on Duckett's Lane in Elkridge in August of 2013 and the new middle school scheduled to open in 2014. Ten positions have been proposed for program enhancements.
Salary costs are expected to rise by $268,240 in the proposed budget, or less than one percent, according to the administration.
"This is essentially a Maintenance of Effort budget," said Foose in a statement. "It does have several changes that reflect our highest priorities: to support all teachers in the classroom and ensure that all students are prepared for college and high wage careers."
Approximately 88 percent of the budget, or $617.5 million, is used to pay salary and benefits for school employees.
Along with the figures in the budget, Foose presented goals and targets for the school system. The goals include students meeting performance standards regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, disability or socio-economic status and providing a safe environment for students.
The two targets indentified are ensuring 100 percent of students are proficient in English and math as well as that 95 percent of high school graduates are college and career ready within four years.
"Over the past several years, we have seen exponential growth in the number and proportion of students impacted by poverty," said Foose, in a statement. "Our schools must adapt to meet the needs of our evolving student population. I am committed to giving teachers the resources they need, so that their time can be spent in the classroom helping every student achieve."
Paul Lemle, the president of the Howard County Education Association, which represents school staff, said one of his organization's goals is to discuss how the multi-million dollar surplus in the health insurance account is used.
"The superintendent has been very public about her intention to make Howard's educators the highest paid in the state," wrote Lemle in an email. "This would obviously make the school system even stronger in terms of its ability to attract and retain the best K-12 professionals in the country."
He noted the surplus is partially owned by school system employees because they make an annual contribution to the fund based on their health benefits.
The Board of Education will hold a hearing on the proposed operating budget on Jan. 31, then conduct several work sessions and eventually vote on the budget by Feb. 21. It is then sent to the County Executive before being voted on by the County Council in May.
To view a more comprehensive breakdown of the budget proposal view the executive summary attached in the photos above.