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Hairston: Larger Class Sizes Due to Economy

After eliminating 196 positions in this year's budget, school officials respond to reports that class sizes have gone up significantly at the high school level.

Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Joe Hairston Tuesday night defended the loss of 196 teaching positions, resulting in larger high school class sizes, saying he had no alternative given state and county budgets.

Hairston told the Baltimore County Board of Education at its meeting in Towson that the economy has forced tough decisions.

"We have no control over the economy. We have no control over the budget," Hairston said to members of the board. "We preserved our employees."

The school system's budget did not include furloughs or layoffs and had to account for an increase in insurance costs and a small pay raise for teachers.

Hairston and several school staff said that eliminating positions was the only way to balance a budget in a time when state and county funding to public schools was essentially flat.

Barbara Burnopp, the chief financial officer for Baltimore County Public Schools, said that when the board passed the budget for the current fiscal year in 2011, it wasn't expecting an increase in funding from the county or the state. The projections hold true for this year as well, she said.

"We have three years at Maintenance-of-Effort budget," she said, referring to the minimum amount of funding that counties are required by law to give school systems.

"That, considering some of our fellow counties, is good," she said.

An article in the Baltimore Sun last week reported that class sizes have grown in Baltimore County after the school system cut for the current fiscal year.

Assistant Superintendent Donald Peccia said a total of 31 positions were given at the elementary school level to accommodate an additional 500 students who enrolled at the elementary level across the county. Although positions were eliminated through attrition, Peccia said that compared to last year, staffing is up by 51 positions at the high school level.

Also this year, the number of Advanced Placement classes offered at the high school level has increased from 410 to 429 classes, he said.

Hairston said that the decisions the school system made were responsible.

"What is the alternative, given the fact that we're one of the most stable school systems in the entire country given our scope and scale," he said.

Baltimore County Public Schools is the 26th largest school system in the nation. 

Board members affirmed Hairston's remarks, also adding that the situation could be worse for Baltimore County.

Board member David Uhlfelder quoted an article in The New York Times about school districts in Texas in which teachers were cleaning classrooms several times a week due to cutbacks in custodial staff.

"We have an economic crisis. As a board, we chose the issue that affect the less people," he said. "I can't visualize our teachers sweeping the classrooms and putting the trash out."

Board President Lawrence Schmidt said that he would at least like some study of the effect of larger class sizes on student performance.

"Ultimately I think we're a data-driven system. Although maybe intutively, larger class sizes are not desirable, it's incumbent on us as a system to figure out what large class sizes mean to the kids," he said.

K Blue June 14, 2012 at 02:15 AM
Lily, I am not quite sure which part(s) of my comment you believe is untrue. It is my understanding that the recent hybrid bill failed, not because of the reasons you suggest (which caused a delay in bringing the bill to final vote), but because time literally ran out on the last day of session. Reportedly, it was the next bill in line for a vote, but time expired. Hopefully, the vote will come up next session. But, unless you know something I do not, at present neither the AG, the state legislators, the local legislators or the County Executive have enforceable power or authority over the Board or the Superintendent on school system issues.
Lily June 14, 2012 at 01:17 PM
K Blue, You seemed to imply that since no one has authority over the school board etc that there is nothing we can do. That was the part I thought was untrue. We should be solidly pushing for that hybrid board because that's the only accountability within grasp. Really the time just ran out? Somehow I misunderstood that fact. That's awesome if they don't have to start over from scratch with the whole process and can pick it up next season.
K Blue June 14, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Lily, I will try to find the article about the final result of the hybrid bill and post it here. Time literally ran out. It was bottled up in committee for the longest time because of opposition outside the County delegations, then on the last day of the session, those in our County delegations were able to get it out of committee around 11pm, but because of the concentration on the budget bill in those final hours it never came to a vote. It was next on the list. Midnight came and it died. It is my understanding that the hybrid bill will be among the first to be put in next session. Originally, the House and the Senate put in differing bills: one called for a fully elected, the other for a hybrid. Eventually, a compromise was reached by both chambers for the hybrid. If it had come to a vote, it would have passed. It had the necessary support, or so I am led to believe.
K Blue June 14, 2012 at 05:07 PM
Lily, here is a good synopsis. www.catonsville.patch.com/blog_posts/final-push-for-school-board-bill
K Blue June 14, 2012 at 05:10 PM
And this, www.catonsville.patch.com/articles/baltimore-county-elected-school-board-bill-dies

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