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Some St. Mary’s school board members suggested this week slightly raising class sizes in order to save instructional resource teacher jobs, which are proposed to be cut to cover health care costs now forecast for next year.

Superintendent Michael Martirano at a Wednesday work session outlined how 25 school teaching positions would have to be cut next year to save about $1.5 million. Another 10.5 jobs in administration and operations would be cut to save approximately $1 million.

Jobs will be cut through attrition, and no one will be laid off or given furloughs, he said.

However, Martirano also said that there is now no money next year for employee raises; $4 million initially set aside for raises is to be used to fill the health care hole.

Savings realized would be added to pay for health care costs for current and retired school employees, which for next year are now budgeted at $27 million (about $8.5 million more than this year’s budgeted amount) based on a projection from the schools’ health care provider.

Premiums for teachers and other school employees will be raised next school year by about 15 percent, as recommended by the health care provider.

Other savings in fiscal year 2015 will come from schools relying less on contracted employees, reducing those expenses by nearly a half-million dollars. The school uses contracted paraeducators to address needs of special education students. Now, about 25 of the 91 full-time, regular education paraeducators will be reclassified into the special education department to help with the workload there.

Martirano said in an interview Wednesday that all kindergarten paraeducators will remain in place.

“Across the schools, we will reduce staffing by 25 [teaching] positions,” Tammy McCourt, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, said.

As outlined by McCourt and Martirano, schools that now have two instructional resource teachers would have to cut back to just one, leaving 25 of the 41 current instructional resource teachers moved back to regular classroom teachers.

The resource teachers that remain would be renamed as “lead teacher,” with similar duties to what they have now.

“I believe having one lead teacher would stretch them way too thin,” board member Marilyn Crosby said. “I believe having none is better than one.”

Martirano said he disagreed, and that having one in place would still help by lending support to classroom teachers.

Board member Mary Washington asked whether class sizes could be slightly raised in order to keep all of the instructional resource teachers. Crosby said she, too, could support that if the class size increases were modest, although other board members showed less support Wednesday for the idea.

“They are very valuable,” Washington said, adding that she and other board members had received numerous letters of support for the instructional resource teachers.

“We can do that,” Martirano told Washington, adding that class sizes would need to on average go up one to five students and some schools might have to have what are referred to as split classes, where one teacher instructs students from two grades. He said he could leave it to principals to decide whether to eliminate a classroom teaching position or an instructional resource teacher position, based on individual school needs.

Washington asked what other cuts the superintendent had considered.

The goal was to keep classrooms intact, Martirano said, and while he was not pleased to have to eliminate more than half of the resource teachers, he was keeping pace with the school board’s desired classroom size goals and caps put in place years ago.

The school board is expected to approve its revised budget on May 14 before sending it back to the county commissioners.

The school board members directed Martirano to include a request for additional money from the county commissioners to fund employee raises. The county will pay its employees for earned step raises based on years of service. It would cost close to $2 million to pay for one step increase next year for school employees.

St. Mary’s public schools fiscal year 2015 budget is currently planned to be $194.7 million, including $94 million from county government and $96.7 million from the state, with the remainder made up of federal and other funds. That is an increase of about $5.5 million from the current year.

Board chair Sal Raspa said St. Mary’s County Commissioners Dan Morris (R) and Larry Jarboe (R) have shown support for schools by suggesting to give the schools more money next year than initially allocated.

“We have three commissioners that don’t see it that way, unfortunately,” Raspa said, referring to commission President Jack Russell (D) and commissioners Todd Morgan (R) and Cindy Jones (R).

“We cannot allow individuals to tear this school system apart,” Raspa said, adding that with additional money next year’s job cuts and lack of raises could “be corrected so easily.”

“I just can’t see how we can continually shrink people, and grow and maintain the high functioning school system” in St. Mary’s, school board member Brooke Matthews said. Matthews and others have previously pointed out it would take about $14 million more from the county commissioners for the school system to receive the average per-pupil funding from Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions.

jyeatman@somdnews.com