As with other much-ballyhooed matches, the anticipated confrontation between the Baltimore County Council and Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Joe A. Hairston fell far short of the hype.
Many felt that the council would have put Hairston on the hot seat over issues related to the elimination of nearly 200 teaching positions, a policy on the public's use of schools and the hiring of a new deputy superintendent.
Instead, the council pressed Hairston very little during the nearly two-hour hearing.
The superintendent, flanked by several dozen top aides, administrators and school board members, also remained noncommittal to requests that he restore teaching positions.
"I was surprised the council didn't apply more pressure," said Cheryl Bost, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County.
Council Chairman John A. Olszewski Sr. had signaled earlier this year that he intended to use Tuesday's budget hearing as a forum to pressure Hairston to restore 194 teaching positions cut from the proposed 2012 budget.
By eliminating the positions, the school system saves nearly $16 million in its $1.3 billion budget. All of the eliminated positions will come from retirements and resignations, school officials said.
"No one is getting a pink slip," one unidentified school official told the council.
Olszewski asked Hairston if he would consider restoring the positions should the schools system budget show a surplus in excess of $16 million.
"I'd like to remind the council we have a looming 2013 budget that is predicted to be worse than this one," Hairston said. "It's too premature to make any decision."
"We put $15 million into the budget just to hold on to teachers," Hairston said.
After the meeting, Olszewski remained optimistic.
"He didn't commit to it and I didn't expect that he would commit to it," Olszewski said. "In the end, we can be advocates and make recommendations, and that's what we did today."
School Use Policy Coming
One issue that did generate a few tense moments came after Hairston revealed that school officials had revised the policy governing the use of schools by the public—commonly called Rule 1300.
The new policy, which is expected to be voted on as early as June, contains several changes, including:
- Eliminating the need for insurance for groups of 50 or less.
- For-profit groups can apply to use the facilities
- Community groups can contract with third-party vendors for things like craft fairs.
- There will be an appeal process for denials.
Michelle Prumo, Hairston's chief of staff, told the council the new policy would be available to the public in a week and online until June 19 for public comment.
Olszewski, sounding irritated, question Hairston about why copies of the policy were not brought to the council Tuesday.
"This is a very important issue we are trying to resolve within our communities," Olszewski said.
"You're talking about something that is 18 hours old," Hairston responded.
Read the Live Blog of the County Council's hearing on the schools system budget.