County Council questions school budget director

April 12, 2011

From our colleague Raven L. Hill, who covers Baltimore County government:

Baltimore County Council members had a message Tuesday for the local school system: Cut back on administrative positions.

With the county’s proposed budget scheduled for release in a few days, Council Chairman John Olszewski Sr.  had tough questions for Baltimore County Public Schools budget director George Sarris who was at the meeting for an unrelated issue. Olszewski questioned Sarris about the amount of savings from more than 270 teacher job cuts, saying that he’s been told the district will save more than the estimated $15.8 million.

“If that’s the case,” Olszewski said, “then I want to know where that money is going.”

Sarris said that was not the case and that an average salary of $61,336 was used to calculate the savings. The jobs will be cut through attrition, not firings or layoffs.

Olszewski also told Sarris that the district needs to do a better job of staying within budget and long-vacant administrative positions should be frozen. He pointed to the recent hiring of Renee Foose, whose position had been open for nine months. The council chairman also suggested the district could hold off on filling a liberal arts director position and deputy area superintendent for middle schools.

“If we’re going to have less teachers then the common sense approach should be less administrative individuals as well,” he said. “If sacrifices have to be made then they have to be made all the way around, not just in particular groups.”

Councilman Kenneth N. Oliver recommended combining some top-level positions, and asked Sarris whether the district is using operating funds for some testing and assessment materials that could be purchased with grants. Sarris replied that the district was not.

After the meeting, Olszweski said he wants any excess savings to go toward keeping teacher jobs.

“We know we can’t restore all of those positions, but if we can restore a few I think that’s heading in the right direction,” Olszewski said.

District officials will discuss some issues with the council in more detail next month during the budget work-sessions, Sarris said.

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