to parents of Dunloggin. Oakland Mills, & other schools that are in desperate need of maintenance

Budget Shortfalls Imminent

This is NOT an overstatement. Many factors have contributed to the fact that Howard County will not be able to fund education to the extent expected and demanded by our residents. Not all of the problems are the fault of the County.

For example, the highly touted "BLUEPRINT" program the State enacted several years ago, promising that it would increase funding and improve schools, requires the counties to match the funds offered by the state. But the state funds are allocated for specific programs designed by the Blueprint, thus draining funds from the programs the County has chosen to provide.

Other issues contributing to the problem are highlighted by our new Interim Superintendent, Bill Barnes, in the article below. I would also mention:

  • deferred maintenance allowed to accumulate for a number of years,
  • the dramatic increase in the cost of maintenance and construction,
  • Howard County being a magnet for disabled students,
  • the end of the vast federal COVID subsidies,
  • the slower growth of the county's tax revenue.
  • additional, non-academic programs such as DEI (diversity, inclusion, and equity, and SEL (social, emotional learning).

Budget Guidelines

A surprise from Interim Superintendent Bill Barnes

Every year, HCPSS has proposed a budget far beyond what the county can afford. This has led to rushed, last-minute efforts to make million-dollar cuts.  


This year, Mr. Barnes plans to avoid the last-minute rush with a promise to propose a budget that will be balanced rather than aspirational. This will be the first time that the HCPSS will actually propose cuts.

This may not be a pleasant surprise, but it seems to be a responsible one. Recognizing the full impact of the financial needs of HCPSS, Superintendent Barnes avoided the common political response of lobbying the County for more money.


This is not happy news, but it is good news when the budget process focuses on reality, and promises a much more thoughtful budget with input from all stakeholders.


Why the Deficit?

Superintendent Barnes identified the following as major contributors to the large deficit:

  • Blueprint mandates
  • Student transportation needs
  • Special education expansion where services are increasingly demanding.
  • Employment compensation – to fully fund future compensation benefits

What Does He Propose?

Superintendent Barnes has proposed budget cuts rather than having to reduce amount of budget increases. Non-mandated services cuts will reduce funding by $46.6 million, which will counterbalance the $47 million dollars of additional expense the system will incur automatically. Barnes clearly recognizes the full impact this budget will have on the community as well as staff. Nonetheless, it would be next to impossible to balance the budget without at least some painful cuts.

Last year, one of the last-minute proposals from Dr. Martirano was cuts to personnel. The Board rejected this alternative because no one wants to eliminate jobs. Nonetheless wages and benefits comprise 84.6 percent of the HCPSS budget, so there isn’t much choice. Barnes approached this very sensitive topic with concern and expressed his hope that the tone and tenor of response to this process will be expressed with dignity and respect. Toward this end, he requested that the Board give him the authority to inform any staff that will be affected, now, to give them until June to explore other opportunities.

The following memo highlights some of the potential cuts of programs that are not "required" by state law.

Although the information contained therein is legitimate, the source of the memo has not been verified.

What has gone wrong?? .

Transportation Cost Increases. Most parents are aware of the problems and added expense of transporting students to school, occasioned primarily by the expanding student population, refusal to raise salaries for bus drivers thus leading to a severe shortage, and a botched effort to replace local drive companies with a large west coast company (ZUM). In order to save money, HCPSS designated over 3,000 additional students to be walkers and extended the distance for defining walkers. The youngest students (pre-K and Kindergarten) now have to walk up to a mile, often on roads without sidewalks and intersections without a crossing guard. This has to change.

Deferred Maintenance and Construction. Parents of students attending Oakland Mills High School, Oakland Mills Middle School, Dunloggin Middle School, along with a number of others have seen maintenance and renovation needs postponed year after year. Overcrowding is a way of life for over 50% of the Howard County school students (39 of 77), and a significant number of students go to their classes in portable trailers.

Why haven't we built needed new schools. The Maryland legislature bears much of the fault. In the early 1970's, Howard County built a number of new schools, all of which are now 50 years old. The County could afford to build new schools because at that time, if the County contributed more than 25% of the cost of construction, the state would fund the rest, and the project was NOT subject to the "prevailing wage law." The Prevailing Wage Law requires union wages be paid to all project workers. This adds 20% to 30% more to the cost of the construction and provides no additional benefit.

Today, thanks to the legislators' need to appease the unions, a county has to pay a full 75% of the cost in order to avoid the Prevailing Wage requirement.

Additional Cost of Special Ed

Howard County is a magnet for students with disabilities. The high regard in which Howard County's original Special Education programs were held resulted in the County attracting a clear majority of special ed students. Although the comparative increase since 2014 has been more equal, Howard County still educates 19% of all special education students in the State. This growth has led to a decrease in the ability of Howard County to provide its touted, high-level service. In 2019, the Student:Teacher ratio in special ed climbed to 34.1, and may be even higher today. Special education teachers continue to experience frustration with the difficulty of providing top flight teaching while handling all of the paperwork, IEP meetings, 504 meetings, and every other duty folded into special education, and we are losing good teachers.

Special Education staffing includes many professional specialists along with teachers and paraeducators. The additional cost of special education begins with the additional positions that are necessary. It addition to special education teachers, the cost is expanded by all of the specialists necessary to provide everything needed to adequately serve our special need students. Below is a diagram of some of the positions and the number of staff filling those positions hired primarily for the Department of Special Ed

The primary lesson for us, however, is not how much special education costs; providing for every student is both necessary and moral. The issue is to realize how much "additional" spending the school system is required to do and is told how to do it by the Local, State and Federal governments.

The HCPSS Special Education "budget is organized into State-mandated categories of expenditures including Administration, Mid-level Administration, Instructional Salaries, Textbooks and Instructional Supplies, Other Instructional Costs, Special Education, Student Personnel Services, Health Services, Student Transportation, Operation of Plant, Maintenance of Plant, Fixed Charges, Community Services, Capital Outlay, and Food Services." Expenditures cannot exceed the mandated spending in any category without the consent of the Local government. "The objective of these budgetary controls is to ensure compliance with legal provisions."

Moreover, the salaries of non-teacher professionals almost always exceed those of teachers. For example, the average salary of the 122 psychologists is close to $120,000. The average salary for teachers is just under $89,000. Even after accounting for the 10-month (or sometimes 11-month) work year, teacher average salary is just over $106,000. Teacher benefits may offset some of this difference, but it is discouraging to know that we have to pay much more for so many indirect academic expenses rather than for the most important direct academic expense:


Facebook  Twitter  Instagram