- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s school board expressed worry and concern Wednesday that the $192 million budget they recommended that day would lead to an erosion of educational excellence in local public schools.
Citing the disparity between St. Mary’s public school funding and other nearby counties, the school board gave its blessing to the plan, but with the caveat that things could change for the worse.
The overall fiscal 2014 operating budget calls for a 4.3 percent increase (about $8 million) from the current year. That money would go to about two dozen new jobs, step pay increases for most employees and increases in fixed charges.
Superintendent Michael Maritrano said the entire community needs to define it’s vision for education.
Martirano said that St. Mary’s public schools have shed dozens of jobs, most of them two years ago, and that it gets harder to fairly compensate employees. He lambasted “certain individuals” for their selective memories.
Several county commissioners recently prodded the school board and superintendent for not doing enough to rein in school spending.
Martirano said Wednesday that Calvert County government provided $109 million to its school system last year, while St. Mary’s commissioners allotted just $77 million. That amounts to about $2,000 more per student funded by Calvert County, he said.
“These numbers don’t lie,” Martirano said.
St. Mary’s public school enrollment this year eclipsed Calvert public schools.
He said that St. Mary’s schools are second to last in the amount of per pupil funding received when local, state and federal dollars are combined.
“Our children are just as important as children in Calvert and Charles counties,” Martirano said.
Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of financial services and human resources, said that with the school board’s approval Wednesday night he will send the approved budget to the county commissioners on Friday.
The commissioners will hold a public forum on the county’s entire budget on April 30 at Chopticon High School.
Along with a $6.2 million operating budget increase from the county government, the school board budget proposes to use $2.5 million of its fund balance and about $3.5 million from the county’s fund balance to address one-time needs such as pension costs and other benefits for retirees.
State funding to St. Mary’s schools is expected to be reduced slightly to $93.7 million next year.
Nourse said the reduction in state aid this year was due to the fact that the overall wealth in St. Mary’s County fell only slightly compared to most of the other counties in the state, which continued to see measurable declines.
The two dozen new jobs in the proposed budget include 10 new safety and security assistants and nine elementary teachers to deal with enrollment growth in those grades.
Another 18 other new jobs originally proposed were axed during budget work.
“Those are positions that I thought we needed,” Brooke Matthews, school board vice chair, said. “We’re so far behind of where we need to be.”
Martirano said that while those 18 new jobs are needed now, his priority is compensating the existing school staff. The teacher and staff unions last week announced that tentative contracts for next year that include giving two step pay increases that had been deferred the previous two years.
Those step increases, along with one-time payments of $800 per employee who does not qualify for a step pay increase, would cost about $3.5 million.
“We have to be loyal to the negotiated agreements,” school board member Mary Washington said. She said that St. Mary’s teacher and school staff salaries need to keep pace with neighboring counties or else local schools will begin to lose good employees as they move elsewhere in search of higher pay.
Board chair Sal Raspa said the school employees have to “swim upstream” to keep up with their workloads, but that performance results continue to shine in St. Mary’s, including better graduation rates and higher SAT and Advanced Placement results.