- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The school board was told Wednesday to expect less money from the state for next year, and that salary and benefit negotiations with teachers and other school staff could add more than $4 million to the budget.
The overall school board budget request is now about $191 million for fiscal year 2014, after shaving off $1.2 million from the proposal.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said regardless of the change in state funding, he wants to continue to focus on getting more money for teachers and other school employees, who for two years have not received step pay increases based on years of service. School employees did receive a 1.5 percent cost-of-living raise this school year.
Martirano said he has received resignation notices from teachers, including four in the last month, who say they are taking jobs elsewhere because of the lack of step pay increases in St. Mary’s.
“That troubles me,” Martirano said, adding that the most important aspect of a child’s education is having a highly qualified and effective teacher.
Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, said there is an “anticipated need” of $4.2 million to fund the results of negotiations, which are currently under way with the teachers union, support staff union and administrators union. He presented changes to the proposed budget Wednesday.
The superintendent’s proposed budget presented last month included just $2.1 million for negotiations, which could include money needed for cost-of-living raises, step increases, one-time payments or other negotiated items.
School board members did not publicly question why that number was nearly doubled.
Negotiations are legally allowed to be done behind closed doors.
Based on budget numbers, a 1 percent raise for all employees would add a little more than $1 million to the schools’ budget. A step increase would add about $2.5 million.
Nourse proposed using about half a million dollars from the school board’s fund balance to cover some of the expenses resulting from negotiations. That could be used for one-time payments since the school board has generally been against using its fund balance for recurring items such as salaries.
Nourse said most of the additional money for negotiations could be found by eliminating about 20 proposed new jobs, which included teachers, school bus attendants, special education teachers and administrators.
Martirano said no current jobs are being considered to be cut, only positions that were proposed as new for next year.
What remains are about 17 new positions, including at least nine elementary school teachers.
All of this hinges on the county commissioners fully funding the school board’s request for $87.6 million in operating funds, about $7 million more than the current year.
Nourse said that he initially budgeted a modest 1 percent increase, or about $800,000 more, in state revenue for fiscal year 2014.
“As it turned out, that didn’t happen,” he said.
Instead, based on current numbers from the governor’s budget, St. Mary’s stands to get about $93.7 million from the state — $340,000 less than the current year. That amount could still change, Nourse said, as the Maryland General Assembly works through the state’s budget.
Nourse and the superintendent proposed to find savings to make up for the difference in state funding through retirement payments, utility costs and insurance payments. He said the latter would be funded at current levels with no increases.
Board member Cathy Allen asked if that adjustment could be compounded in future years based on the fact that insurance premiums continually rise.
“It all depends on our employees and their level of health,” Nourse said.
Martirano said he plans to send the school board members another iteration of the budget late next week. They are expected to take action Feb. 27 on next year’s proposed budget before it is sent to the county commissioners.
A public hearing on the entire county budget is planned for April 30 at Chopticon High School.