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.
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.