- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
It was just a matter of time, the St. Mary’s County commissioners reckoned, before the state shifted a portion of the cost of teacher pensions to the counties.
The Maryland General Assembly did just that during a special session this week. The change will be phased in, with the counties picking up 50 percent of the cost next fiscal year, and 100 percent by 2016.
“They’ve permanently shifted pensions to us,” said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for St. Mary’s County government.
In March, the commissioners set aside $4.1 million in anticipation of the pension shift as part of the $85.7 million local funding to schools.
The pension obligation for St. Mary’s County is expected to be $2.5 million after July 1, $3.2 million for fiscal 2014, $4 million in fiscal 2015 and $4.6 million for fiscal 2016, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
Kramer said the $4.1 million in the local budget “will stay there,” but the $1.6 million difference between that and the pension cost next year will likely be used to further fund other teacher retiree benefits, already set to get $1 million in county dollars in fiscal 2013.
“If we don’t need it all, we’ll put it in another retirement cost,” Kramer said.
The commissioners have scheduled one more budget work session on Monday before the $211.7 million recommended budget is finalized on May 29.
The shift in pension costs becomes part of the maintenance-of-effort formula to fund schools, Kramer said, which means the state expects the dollars spent on education by local governments will continue to increase so long as student enrollment continues to rise.
Commission President Jack Russell (D) said last week that even if teacher pension costs hadn’t been shifted down to the counties in fiscal 2013, the commissioners would have kept the $4.1 million set aside anyway.
“We’re going to get teacher pension,” he said. “Once that’s on the table, it’s gotta be paid.”
The cost of the teacher pension shift in fiscal 2013 ranges from $366,147 in Kent County to $27.2 million in Montgomery County.
The Maryland Association of Counties was opposed to the shift. The group wrote the Maryland Senate, “County governments have no control over the setting of teacher salaries, and do not even have a seat at the table to negotiate benefits and terms.” Teacher salaries and benefits are negotiated by school boards in each county.