Early budget deadline puts St. Mary’s school officials on edge -- Gazette.Net


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The St. Mary’s County commissioners have accelerated their calendar for the upcoming fiscal 2015 budget preparations through the winter and into spring by about two weeks.

In doing so at last week’s meeting, Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) said, “I want to make sure the board of education has their stuff into us [with] plenty of time to spare, not showing up on a Friday afternoon for us to discuss on a Tuesday,” in reference to the school board supplying responses to financial questions from the commissioners.

The board of education and superintendent took issue with that remark at Wednesday’s meeting when they aligned their budget calendar.

“We take this so serious,” said Superintendent Michael Martirano. “We follow the time line in the schedule.”

It would be “completely remiss and irresponsible for that kind of jargon or information” saying that the school missed deadlines, Martirano said.

Referring to a commissioner meeting to approve the school’s budget on June 18 this year, Martirano said he was trying to understand “why the drama associated with all of that.” The commissioners complained they didn’t get fiscal questions answered in a timely manner and put off the vote by another week.

“Last year we had eight pages of questions. We got them on a Tuesday. We got those back [to the commissioners] by Friday,” said Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources.

In formulating the next budget for the public schools, education officials won’t know how much state funding will be allocated until after the Maryland General Assembly session ends next April, Martirano said. And it appears the commissioners won’t provide the local funding number until May.

By county code, the board of education’s budget is to be submitted to the county commissioners as part of the larger recommended county budget process by March 1 each year. That date did not change from the year before, Elaine Kramer, chief financial officer for St. Mary’s County government, said from her office later Wednesday.

“When we are told not to miss a deadline ... I expect a level of flexibility,” Martirano said at the school board meeting.

The new budget schedule states the county commissioners will provide final local funding direction for public schools on May 5, 2014, Nourse said.

The commissioners are scheduled to hold their public hearing on a recommended 2015 budget on April 15, about two weeks earlier than usual, and to finalize the budget by May 13, instead of at the end of the month.

The commissioners would then approve the schools’ final budget on May 27, instead of in June.

“We will continue to do everything we possibly can to adhere to this calendar outlined,” school board chair Sal Raspa said.

“I better stock up on Wheaties and Tums,” said Brooke Matthews, school board member.

“And Motrin,” said Cathy Allen, school board member.

“It looks like it’s going to be a banner, crazy budget session,” Matthews said.

With the board of education set to finalize its budget by May 14, 2014, near the time of high school graduations, Martirano said, “the school system is in great, high-throttled activity at that time. We may not have information as expected in a nice, tidy box with a ribbon on it.”

“I wish I understood what was driving this change for the commissioners,” Allen said.

The reason the calendar was accelerated is because of the June 24, 2014, primary election, on a Tuesday, the day the commissioners meet, Kramer said later. “With that primary, you lose a [commissioner] meeting in June,” she said. The current fiscal year ends next June and a new budget has to be in place July 1 to keep operations going.

“In April, the legislative session is closed. We can capture more time in April and May and really get this done,” she said.

Kramer said two versions of the budget calendars were presented to the board of education and school officials got to select their preference, which Nourse called “the lesser of two evils.”

The board of education’s budget this year is $189 million with $89.9 million from the county commissioners.

jbabcock@somdnews.com