- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
In order to maintain school operations while compensating teachers and beefing up security, Charles County Public Schools will ask the county for an additional $23 million.
Superintendent James E. Richmond’s proposed operating budget for 2014 is a 7 percent increase from last year, totaling $339.6 million.
The school system, based on the proposed budget, will rely heavily on the county because funding from the state is estimated to be only a slight increase of $1.5 million.
Paul Balides, assistant superintendent of finance, said Tuesday that state funding is tied to enrollment, county wealth and population of students receiving free and reduced-price meals.
Though the county saw an increase in FARMS students, the lack of enrollment increase would likely keep state funding low, he said.
While Balides said there budget proposal requests $23 million more from the county, it is not likely that the school system will get that amount.
“It pales in comparison to any increase ever seen from the county,” Balides said.
Last year, the school system requested an additional $8 million.
The largest funding requests in the budget pertain to staff and safety.
Richmond’s budget indicates $9.5 million reserved for salaries in teacher contract negotiations.
The system is looking to advance teachers two steps, which would put them in line with their appropriate pay scales after step increases were axed from previous budgets.
The money is also estimated to handle other factors that may come up during negotiations.
Health insurance, Balides said, is expected to increase 10 percent, which is reflected in a $3.1 million request.
Balides said 10 percent is a common increase for health costs.
Other costs pertaining to employees include $4 million for other post-employee benefits, which was taken out of the budget last year.
The other big request from the school system involves school safety.
The superintendent is recommending $2 million go into the 2014 budget for safety measures.
The money would be used to install security cameras in elementary schools, door and lock upgrades, and signs and access modification.
An example of access modification would be a school that funnels visitors through the main office from the school entrance. This type of structure is currently at newer schools, such as North Point High School. Richmond addressed concerns with safety regarding portable classrooms. Doors are to remain locked from the outside; Richmond said in many cases “someone puts a rock in the door.”
The thing that breaches all security measures, Richmond said, is “human failure to follow security procedures.”
There is also a $600,000 request for increases to the school resource officer program.
Charles County sheriff’s officers, known as school resource officers, are currently assigned to every high school and middle school. The current school officers include the elementary schools in their duties but are not specifically stationed at any elementary school.
Richmond would like to start out with eight school resource officers to cover the elementary schools and the Robert D. Stethem Educational Center, and phase in more officers over time.
Funding for the officers typically is handled through sheriff’s office allocations, but the initial request was put into the superintendent’s budget to get the process started.
When it came to safety upgrades and requests for funding, Richmond told board members he was already getting the ball moving on safety upgrades.
“I’m not going to wait for you to fund it,” he said.
Richmond said he felt very strongly about safety and, based on comments during the meeting’s public forum, parents do, too.
Vicki Kelly, PTO president at Mary H. Matula Elementary School, spoke about security upgrades that parents at the La Plata elementary school would like to see, which include magnetic locks, card swipe access for exterior doors and upgrades to sign-in systems that would include criminal and sex-offender checks.
Matula parents also would like door locks on classrooms to be upgraded.
“We don’t think these things are too costly. After all, they’d be keeping safe the things we value most — our future. And no cost is too great to safeguard that,” she said.
School board Chairwoman Roberta S. Wise explained to Kelly and two other Matula parents who came to speak about safety that some of their requests already were under consideration in Richmond’s budget proposal.
Prior to the public forum, Richmond said that getting safety upgrades will take the school board’s commitment and support and also support from the county.
“The county needs to commit if they are serious about safety,” he said.
Other costs include funds for the new St. Charles High School. Richmond is requesting $427,700 to hire key positions, such as the school’s principal and a director of technology.
St. Charles High School is set to open in 2014.
What Richmond doesn’t want to happen is funding for the high school affecting staff compensation.
“I don’t want the opening of the high school coming off the backs of teachers,” he said.
Richmond said that while the school system seemed to be in line with new technology at one time, there aren’t any requests for new technology. Technology requests include $1.8 million to upgrade infrastructure. Balides said a lot of that is to get the school in a position to support state-mandated online-testing requirements.
Richmond said there would be issues in terms of funding for the future and having no new programs “is sad.”
He did include summer reading programs in the budget, which were cut last year due to funding issues.
He said the proposed budget reflects maintaining operations and putting the highest priority on safety and teacher compensation.
The school board will have a work session Feb. 12 to discuss and approve the proposed budget and will present the budget to the county at the end of February.
Education Association of Charles County President Liz Brown was the only one signed up to speak at a public hearing on the proposed budget.
Brown said she supports the budget and encourages the board to accept it.
Earlier in the meeting, Brown said, “This is a no-frills budget, but it is one that represents the needs of our students, takes into account mandated changes from the state and federal education authorities … and positions Charles County to be competitive in teacher retention.”