Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) Superintendent George Arlotto proposed a $1.37 billion operating budget and a $234.5 million capital budget for Fiscal Year 2022 (FY2022) to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education on December 17. The budget, which is a $52.3 million increase from the previous year, includes new teaching positions and funding to improve virtual learning for students and staff.
Nearly half of the increase, $25 million, is dedicated to compensating employees. While the specifics will be negotiated at a later date, this amount is sufficient to provide a step increase for all eligible employees, a 1 percent cost-of-living increase for all employees and the second half of the mid-year step increase for teachers approved by the Board of Education in November.
The budget will also create an additional 225.9 new positions across the school system, and 97 percent of those positions will directly interact with students. The recommendation includes 15 new teacher assistant positions to support elementary schools.
“We are placing every additional position in this recommendation where it will most impact children,” Arlotto said during his budget presentation.
Another priority focus area is additional support for students with special needs. Nearly $2 million is recommended for 30 new positions for specialty sites and support for comprehensives schools.
As of October 30, AACPS had more than 6,150 students in the English Language Learners program. Due to rapid growth of the program, the budget recommendation contains six positions to meet the needs of these students.
“Much has also been written and said over the last nine months about the social-emotional health of our students and employees,” said Arlotto. “Our Mental Health Task Force’s report presented in October laid out a variety of areas in which every agency and individual in our county should focus.”
The budget would include 5.5 positions to assist with students’ mental health. Three school counselors will go to the schools with the highest enrollment and to elementary schools that currently have one school counselor.
“I want to be clear, however, that this is just one more step on a path to boost the school counselors at the elementary level as we continue to strive to meet the social-emotional needs of our young learners,” said Arlotto. “Addressing these issues at an earlier age can help avert more serious issues in our older grades.”
Currently, federal and state grants have funded the technology to make virtual learning a success in AACPS. That funding will soon disappear, so the budget dedicates more than $7.5 million to improving virtual learning and technology for students and staff. It also includes $4 million for the refreshing and replacement of Chromebooks for teachers, students and other employees. This is the first part of a five-year rollout of the Chromebook program. More funding will be needed for this program in the future.
The capital budget contains $188 million for construction to provide the best educational environment for when the pandemic is over. This includes construction and renovation of the Old Mill Complex in Millersville.
Arlotto also addressed concerns that a budget increase and more teaching positions are unnecessary in a year where enrollment has dropped by 1,500 students. Arlotto said this is the first decrease in enrollment in 15 years and it is caused exclusively by COVID-19.
“Those students will be back, and they will likely be back in September when the new school year begins,” he explained. “Any failure to account for them in our funding request now will exacerbate our class size issues and eradicate the progress we have made in this area in recent years.”
On March 1, the Board of Education will request approval on both the operating and capital budget approval, and on May 1, the budgets are due to County Executive Steuart Pittman. The FY2022 budgets would be adopted on June 16.
“Whether it is with the enhancement of educational facilities in which our students learn or the delivery of programs, support and instruction, we have the opportunity every single day to positively impact the lives of children,” Arlotto said. “Every second spent with a child is a chance to inspire.”
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