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By JESSE YEATMAN

Staff writer

Superintendent Michael Martirano and the St. Mary’s school board are hoping to boost their operating budget by at least $9 million to pay for about 30 new positions, raises for all employees and to cover escalating expenses next fiscal year.

The superintendent is proposing a 4.8 percent increase to the overall fiscal 2014 operating budget for a total of $192.4 million. That is about $8.9 million more than the current year, and calls for a $7 million increase from the county government as well as $874,000 more from the state and an additional $1 million from the school’s surplus funds.

Martirano told school board members during a Wednesday meeting that previous cuts to school staff, especially two years ago when dozens of positions were eliminated through attrition and vacancies, will begin to take a toll on the quality of education offered in St. Mary’s County unless there is an increase of money.

“I’m going to make a very liberal request for increase of staff,” Martirano said, outlining about 30 new positions. More than half of those are for teachers, including nine new elementary classroom teachers to deal with increased enrollment at that level, while other new positions include an accountant, school counselor, psychologist, building service workers and secretaries.

Those positions would cost about $2.2 million for the salaries and fixed benefits that come with them.

The proposal also includes about $2.1 million for negotiated expenses — raises and pay step increases — that could be given to teachers, staff and administrators.

Greg Nourse, assistant superintendend of fiscal services and human rescources, said that during a county commissioner work session last month, staff presented information that a pay step increase along with a 1 percent cost-of-living raise for county employees would cost about $1 million. The commissioners have not yet proposed an official budget for fiscal 2014.

Martirano and Nourse said they will also shoot for the same pay increases for school employees, although those raises must be negotiated with school employee unions while the commissioners simply enact pay changes for county employees.

The rest of the proposed increase to the school board’s fiscal 2014 budget would cover rising health-care costs, retirement benefits, teacher pensions and other items.

Brooke Matthews, vice chair of the school board, said he would like to see the “top-shelf” budget request that includes what the superintendent really thinks is needed.

Martirano said he had prepared a budget that included an additional $5 million — a total increase of $12 million — basically to include twice as many new staff and twice as much money for raises than the presented budget proposal.

He said the budget presented Wednesday “represents minimal needs, not maximum needs.”

“Somewhere along the line we are now behind millions and millions of dollars,” Sal Raspa, board chair, said.

Martirano told the school board the budget presented would not be the final school budget for next year. He anticipates preliminary revenue estimates from the state at the end of January or early in February.

The school board is set to approve its budget next month to send to the county commissioners by March 1. After a public hearing and work sessions, the commissioners will vote on the county’s final budget by June 1.

Maryland state law requires county governments to fund at least the same amount of money per student from one year to the next, a process referred to as maintenance of effort. That funding process does not add in any inflationary spending, Martirano said, essentially making it “a step backwards.”

St. Mary’s public schools saw no net growth in enrollment, meaning that the county government would not need to increase its allotment next year in order to meet maintenance of effort, Nourse said.

No increase in funding, however, would leave the school system shortchanged when it comes to increases to health care and utilities, potential raises or adding additional staff to make up for past cuts, Martirano said.

“Our county is in a position, in terms of wealth level, to provide more assistance to education,” Martirano said, adding that he would like to see some of the county government’s multi-million dollar fund balance used for school expenses.

He hinted that there may be additional requests made to the county for safety and security enhancements in the wake of the mass shooting last month at a Connecticut school that left 20 students and several school employees dead.

“I understand this is a budget built on a series of unknowns,” board member Cathy Allen said. She said she appreciated the county commissioners’ willingness to work with the school board last year.

“I certainly look to this year to be more of the same,” Allen said.

jyeatman@somdnews.com