- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Unlike last year’s presentation, which ended in an emotional employee outpour, Thursday’s Calvert County Public Schools fiscal 2014 budget presentation was largely uneventful and ended on a positive note — the main reason being teachers and support staff already have their first contracted raise in years.
CCPS Superintendent Jack Smith presented the budget in the Calvert High School cafeteria and projected the budget being $196,698,454 — roughly a $4 million increase from last year.
When presenting the “brutal facts,” Smith said he was expecting to see a decrease of $888,096 in state aid, which he projected coming in around $79 million.
Smith explained that state aid was calculated by comparing school enrollment — which decreased an estimated 0.7 percent from 2012 to 2013 — to county wealth.
“If our wealth goes down 2 percent and everyone else goes down 3 percent, we’re relatively more wealthy than everyone else,” Smith said of the state’s perception of Calvert County in comparison to other Maryland counties.
To mitigate this loss in state aid, Smith said the Calvert County Board of County Commissioners usually funded the schools above Maintenance of Effort laws, which require that counties do not decrease per-pupil spending from one fiscal year to the next.
“Despite our average funding, our student performance is outstanding,” Smith said, continuing that there were still aspects the school system needed to improve, like disparities in school performance in certain subgroups and a very small number of students who do not graduate.
“If you’re not prepared, you don’t have a choice to make,” Smith said of student options upon graduation from CCPS.
Smith said he would be asking the county for an additional $5 million — a total of $115,284,424 — and made it clear that he would never ask for more than the school system needed, even if he wanted to.
“If I ask for less than that, I’m not being reasonable with our students,” Smith said.
He said additional expenses for next year would include those associated with the Common Core State Standards; Science Technology Engineering and Math, or STEM, programs; additional student internships; and new computer-based state assessments.
“And for our system, we have to address the facility security needs,” Smith said, explaining that in the coming year the system will be looking into swipe cards to enter facilities, lockable classroom doors and “guided lobbies” for which all school visitors can only enter the facility by going through the main office.
Smith said the county government has made a commitment to work with CCPS to make these security initiatives a reality.
When breaking down where dollars will be spent for fiscal 2014, the largest chunk, 84 percent, will go toward salaries, wages and benefits, Smith said. CCPS teachers already have a signed contract for which they will receive a 1 percent cost of living salary adjustment, or COLA, and a step increase that is being done on a new compressed pay scale, allowing them to reach their highest salary faster.
The Calvert Association of Educational Support Staff recently agreed to a similar contract including a 1 percent COLA, a step increase and a step compression. This contract is still in the ratification process.
“I don’t apologize for the fact that Calvert County Public Schools pays very well,” Smith said.
Smith said he was also expecting to see a 12 percent increase in what CCPS will have to pay in instructional supplies and textbooks.
When it comes to how the raises are funded, Smith explained that about 60 employees recently accepted an early retirement incentive, so he knows their positions will be free for the coming school year. Therefore, Smith said he is able to either not fill the position at all or fill it for around 60 or 70 percent of what the vacating employee is earning.
Smith said the school system also will not be offering employees the chance to have extra professional development for extra pay, freeing up more funding.
“A school system budget is a complicated, chaotic, difficult set of data. … We are bound by so many different obligations,” Smith said. “But our central focus is student learning.”
In contrast to last year’s flood of teachers who stressed their need for a raise, there were only two people to make public comment following Smith’s presentation.
Culver Ladd, a former Calvert County Board of Education candidate, requested that Smith ask for an additional $150,000 to implement an organic chemistry program out of Patuxent High School in Lusby. Ladd suggested this program be jointly run between CCPS and the College of Southern Maryland.
The second speaker was Calvert Education Association President Debbie Russ, who spoke on behalf of the teachers union. Russ said she was pleased that teacher contract negotiations started in October 2012, allowing Smith to prepare his budget with a teacher contract signed. Russ said she hoped this would become a common practice between the unions and the board of education’s negotiating team.
After Ladd and Russ spoke, the board of education members were given time to comment.
“The main thing we’re looking at is giving a much deserved raise to our employees. … It’s a direct benefit to our kids,” Board of Education President Eugene Karol said.
Board of Education Vice President Kelly McConkey said he was also pleased to see employees having a contracted raise.
“And I’m glad to see they’re working with us on the safety, which is a top priority right now,” McConkey said.