St. Mary’s sets school funding hike at 3 percent -- Gazette.Net


St. Mary’s public schools are set to receive 3 percent more in funding from local government in the budget proposed by the county commissioners beginning July 1 in the new budget.

At first, three of the St. Mary’s County commissioners agreed on a 5 percent increase Tuesday afternoon, but then the majority shifted to 3 percent. The sheriff’s office will get 5 percent more in its budget.

The commissioners used a base amount of $80.6 million to determine how much to provide in fiscal 2014, which starts July 1.

A 5 percent increase would have brought $84.6 million, excluding money for teacher pensions and retiree benefits. The 3 percent increase for schools is about $83 million, plus another $4 million for teacher pensions and retiree benefits.

The school system requested $86.8 million in county funds, plus the $4 million for pensions and retiree benefits.

In the current budget, the county commissioners provided $85.7 million in local funding to public schools, including those teacher pension and retiree benefit costs.

The commissioners have a reserve of “just under $3 million,” said Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer of St. Mary’s County government, that can be used to adjust the budget after it goes to public hearing in April and before it is finalized in May.

Three of the commissioners initially wanted this week to build a 5 percent increase in the school budget — President Jack Russell (D), Larry Jarboe (R) and Todd Morgan (R). Commissioners Cindy Jones (R) and Dan Morris (R) stood fast on a 3 percent increase. Morgan eventually compromised for 3 percent and shifted the majority.

“This is not a time to hire new people or start new programs,” Jones said.

The school system in its proposed $191.9 million budget, which also includes state and some federal funding, included money for nine new elementary school teachers and 10 safety and security assistants.

At Monday’s budget work session, Morgan said the school system is a “beta test site for every possible social program that can come out.” With programs ranging from science and technology academies for advanced students to those in danger of dropping out of high school at the Fairlead Academy, Morgan said, “I feel sorry for the kids left in the middle.”

He said he is primarily interested in teacher, principal and support staff compensation, “after last year’s fiasco ... going back changing business cards and giving raises” to administrators.

Three administrators had their job titles changed and were given raises for increased duties last summer. “From last year’s budget, we’re not cutting anybody’s budget,” Morris said. “We’re looking at what they’re asking for versus what we can give them at this time.”

It is up to the board of education to determine how to use the 3 percent increase in local dollars. “We haven’t made specific cuts to the board of education at this point,” Kramer said.

The school system had $3.5 million set in its budget proposal for negotiated contract agreements with the unions for teachers, classified employees and administrators. Those negotiations are almost complete.

Now the school system is expecting just $2.4 million in new funding instead. “If that’s what it is, it’s not going to be covered,” said Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, on Wednesday. Negotiations with teacher and support staff unions may have to be reopened, he said.

When arguing for the 3 percent increase to the school budget rather than the 5 percent, Jones noted that Jarboe “historically doesn’t vote for the budget” when it is formally adopted.

There may be three votes for 5 percent more for the public schools this week, she said, but in May when it’s time to finalize the county spending plan, “We may look at renegotiating the budget. You may not have three votes for the budget,” she told Russell.

Jarboe said he supported a 5 percent increase for schools. Morgan directly asked him if he would vote for the county budget this time.

“That’s the question,” Jones said.

“That’s a good question,” Jarboe said. “I voted for the budget more times than I’ve not over the 12 years.”

From fiscal 2004 to fiscal 2013, Jarboe voted against five budgets and voted for five budgets, county budget documents show. He said no to the last five budgets and last gave his signature to the budget for fiscal 2008.

Jarboe is on his third consecutive term as county commissioner and by law cannot run again in 2014. He was also a county commissioner from 1994 to 1998.

In addition to the $3 million left unassigned by St. Mary’s County government before next month’s public hearing on the proposed, there is also at least another $8 million from previously unused funds.

Jones said it is “a good idea” to have a “healthy budget reserve.”

“I kind of like the idea of having a reserve for emergencies,” Morris said.

The sheriff’s budget is going to be more than $33.1 million, for a 5 percent increase, supported by Russell, Jarboe and Morgan.

The majority supported two new school resource officers to be added to middle schools, a new drug diversion detective and some rank upgrades. Another majority, Morris, Jones and Jarboe, said no to adding a red-light camera deputy.

Jones said she did not want to add any positions to the sheriff’s office. “My view on these is to take care of the employees who are carrying the water for the county and the sheriff and take a wait-and-see approach,” she said. “Unless there is some absolute dire emergency, we should not be adding employees.”

“Adding a new drug detective is not going to solve the drug problem in St. Mary’s County,” Morris said.

“But it can probably help,” Russell said.

“There is an epidemic of drug use,” Jarboe said.

The entire county budget now proposed for fiscal 2014 is about $210.8 million. The current budgeted amount is $211.7 million.

The commissioners are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the recommended budget to take to public hearing on April 30.