The Charles governmental center saw some excitement Tuesday evening as dozens of teachers, students and school staff gathered, chanting and holding signs in support of the county commissioners fully funding the school system’s upcoming budget.
The Education Association of Charles County hosted the rally in La Plata to encourage the funding of the fiscal 2022 budget, while some commissioners remain hesitant.
The entire board of education briefly paused their meeting to attend the event and show support for teachers and staff.
“We need to make sure all employees get what they deserve,” Linda McLaughlin, teacher’s union president, said.
“Surrounded by amazing educators … people can’t understand what we do unless they’re in it,” Alexis Eaton, Charles County’s newly crowned teacher of the year, said. “We pour our hearts and souls into these kids” and “to achieve, we have to have this funding.”
Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) said to the crowd, “When we take care of our teachers, we take care of our children, we take care of our students, we take care of the community and we take care of the future.”
Earlier at the school board meeting, Superintendent Kim Hill said, “We continue to ask the Charles County commissioners to increase their proposed funding for Charles County Public Schools. The proposed funding does not allow us to provide appropriate raises for our employees or add counselors and psychologists to provide mental and emotional supports for our children and staff.”
She said it also does not allow the funding of new programs like career and technical education classes, “which are highly sought after by our students. ... If the commissioners do not provide additional funding, we would have to cut programs in order to fund salary increases.”
Karen Acton, assistant superintendent of fiscal services, shared with the board they “submitted a $413.6 million fiscal year 2022 operating budget for consideration to Charles County commissioners,” which is a $12.5 million, or 3.1%, increase over the current operating budget.
The request to the county is $206.7 million, which is $10.9 million in additional county funding, or a 5.6% increase from the current year. Most of the remaining budget comes from the state, along with a relatively small amount of federal funding.
Acton said the $10.9 million more in county funding includes $1.9 million in mandatory cost increases and a reserve of $7.9 million for collective bargaining assumptions to provide raises for staff. The board’s request also includes additional funding to add 12 full-time positions for school counselors and psychologists and $80,000 for additional mental health resources “to address the mental and emotional health support needed for staff as result of the pandemic,” she said.
The proposed budget from the county currently suggests funding for the schools at $199.7 million, which is an increase of $3.97 million over the current year but still $7 million short of the school board’s request.
“Fully funding the [Charles public schools’] budget allows us to grow and make improvements to the school system and also allows us to attract and retain good employees,” Acton stated. “When we do not receive full funding from the county, [the school system] has limited options in the budget to find the needed funding to give adequate raises to our staff.”
Michael Lukas, a school board member, pointed out “every year we submit a budget and it’s never funded and there’s never any explanation from our commissioners. … As I look at what they propose, they seem to have no issue in drastically increasing things under their purview.”
He said the “school system seems to consistently lag behind,” and “given everything with [COVID-19], it’s not as though this is an unreasonable request.”
Board member Tajala Battle-Lockhart said, “If the budget is not fully funded, career readiness is going to be affected. She said they need funding for mental health supports as well, to support students and staff as best they can.
“The 1% increase [in salary] for staff needs to happen,” she said. “We need to show them some support on this journey.”