Darryl Williams

Baltimore County Public Schools superintendent Darryl Williams.

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Darryl L. Williams presented a $1.77 billion operating budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2022 during the Board of Education meeting on Jan. 5.

“Our budget is really about people,” Williams said, as he highlighted that salaries and benefits comprise 83 percent of the BCPS budget.

A public hearing on the budget was held during a special session of the Board on Tuesday night after The Avenue went to press.

After the public comment portion of the meeting, the Board was to hold a work session on the proposed budget.

The superintendent’s FY2022 budget proposal contains a compensation increase for staff to keep salaries competitive with surrounding school systems.

In lieu of any new initiatives, the budget maintains spending for instructional staffing ratios and materials; per pupil budgets for schools; facilities maintenance; technology infrastructure; and capital programs.

The budget also reflects a minimum wage increase; Community Eligibility Provision (schoolwide free student meals) expansion to 87 schools; increased special education services; utility rate inflation; and the addition of Grade 5 to Watershed Charter School.

Williams explained that savings will help fund increases in benefits and contractual inflation.

Before outlining budget specifics, Williams presented an overview of the school system’s status during the COVID-19 pandemic and following a catastrophic ransomware attack in November.

Williams shared that the school system has experienced a significant drop in elementary enrollment and that student engagement is more challenging to maintain during remote learning.

He noted that instruction lapsed for only three days due to the ransomware attack and that, during the first four months of the school year, Food and Nutrition Services delivered 1.7 million meals to families in need from more than 300 locations.

He also said 73,000 student devices were distributed last spring and at the start of this school year and that an additional 82,000 staff and student devices are being exchanged due to the ransomware attack.

Williams stressed that while enrollment dropped by 3,954 students in the last year, the needs of BCPS students continues to grow.

In the past decade, county schools experienced a 44 percent increase in students eligible for Free and Reduced-price Meals, a 162 percent increase in English learners, and a 105 percent increase in homeless students.

According to Williams, the pandemic has strained resources for vulnerable students by limiting food and nutrition programs, changing the traditional delivery of special education, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) and social-emotional support services, and requiring restructured curriculum and training to deliver remote instruction.

“As often happens,” Williams said, “Our needs are greater than available funding.”

Williams acknowledged that last year the county funded the school system a Maintenance of Effort budget due to fiscal concerns at the outset of the pandemic and that the school system could face lower state funding for FY2022 if funding is based on current lower enrollment.

He explained that his proposed budget assumes roughly flat state revenue compared to FY2021 and county funding $16 million above FY2021 to support potential employee compensation changes.

The FY2022 proposed budget has been posted online. A second Board work session will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 19, at 6:30 p.m.

The Board will vote to adopt the budget on Tuesday, Feb. 9, at 6:30 p.m. All Board meetings will be virtual and accessible to the public via the BCPS website.

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