Anne Arundel County School Superintendent Carol S. Parham this week proposed a nearly 10 percent increase in spending for next year, including pay raises and bonuses to lure new teachers to fill the county's growing number of classroom vacancies.
The $549 million budget proposal, now in the hands of the school board, reflects the growing pressure on the county to cope with the region's worsening teacher shortage. It would boost entry-level salaries--which have lately lagged behind those in most other affluent districts--from $28,043 to $29,759, as well as increased pay for substitutes.
"This kind of boost is imperative if we're going to keep up with other counties," Parham said. Her budget also requests substantial increased funding for school safety and discipline.
It remains unclear how much of her ambitious request will be funded. Anne Arundel is enjoying economic good health, and the County Council has supported Parham's agenda, awarding the schools a $40 million increase last year.
Yet the county's spending remains constrained by a tax cap, and some county officials have said they can't foresee approving many more budget increases the size of last year's.
"I understand the difficult position they're in," Parham said. "I think I have to state realistically what the schools need." She noted that her budget request is $25 million less than the total amount requested by her staff.
Though the county's scores on Maryland's standardized tests slipped slightly this year, lowering its statewide ranking from 11 to 14, Parham said none of her initiatives was targeted specifically at improving test scores.
Instead, she said, her goal remains improving the overall quality of instruction--something she said starts with her plan for recruiting and retaining good teachers. "You simply can't put forward a program without the people to do it," she said.
School systems throughout the region have been finding it harder to hire enough qualified teachers in recent years, especially those certified in math, science and special education. The problem is expected to worsen as many baby-boom teachers near retirement age, creating hundreds of vacancies in Anne Arundel.
Meanwhile, the number of new graduates from teachers colleges has remained constant, while a booming economy attracts many students into higher-paying technical jobs. Anne Arundel, which had about 400 vacancies last year, will have to fill about 700 next year.
Parham said the county has lost ground in recent years while other school systems have raised salaries--Anne Arundel ranks 18th among Maryland's 24 school systems in entry-level pay.
In addition to raising salaries, Parham is seeking $380,000 for signing bonuses for new teachers who agree to stay with the district for at least three years in such hard-to-fill subjects as special education and science.
She also wants to raise the daily rate for substitute teachers, who are also in increasingly short supply, from $90 to $100.
And she hopes to hire 21 teacher "mentors"--experienced instructors who would counsel and help new hires get up to speed. Many teachers have pointed to the need for more support systems like mentoring as key to retaining new staff members.
Parham's budget also includes requests to add 55 teachers to handle enrollment growth, 10 new teachers to continue an effort to reduce first-grade class sizes, and 19 reading teachers to beef up middle-school literacy skills.
A rash of school shootings around the country has left many educators concerned about discipline and possible mental health problems among their students. Parham's budget reflects this concern, with a request for about 10 more guidance counselors, four psychologists and three social workers.
She is also hoping to set aside $300,000 for school security initiatives, the details of which will come out this year after an extensive police survey of county schools.
The school system is releasing the budget information on its World Wide Web site, www.aacps.org. The school board will hold two public meetings on the budget before putting it to a vote next month: 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Glen Burnie High School auditorium, and 7 p.m. Thursday at the school system central office, 2644 Riva Rd., Annapolis.