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St. Mary’s public schools’ superintendent hopes to add 31 new jobs to the growing system and is asking for almost a $9 million increase in its operating budget for the next school year.

Superintendent Michael Martirano laid out his proposed $198 million fiscal year 2015 budget to the school board Wednesday, telling the elected board that while things are looking better than in past years, the schools still have catching up to do.

“We have not kept up with our growth,” Martirano said, adding that St. Mary’s public schools continues to be the third-fastest-growing system in Maryland.

The school system has grown by some 1,600 students in the last decade, including taking over this year Head Start services for 3- and 4-year-olds. During that time, Martirano said, the school system has not added many positions and has, in some cases, cut back.

“The school system is now larger, with greater demands,” Martirano said.

The budget proposal includes no major cuts, Martirano said, nor does he have any concerns about negative impacts on staffing, programs or benefits.

It does include eight new elementary teachers, several special education teachers, six new bus drivers or attendants, a few building service workers and other jobs. “This puts us right where we need to be,” he said.

Martirano said he would also like to add back into the budget a public information officer to communicate with the press and general public, a position that was cut during the recession.

The budget also includes a new principal and secretary to start midway through the fiscal year as the new Capt. Walter Francis Duke Elementary School is under construction.

“We need to continue to be optimistic and fight for what we need to run the school system,” Sal Raspa, school board chair, said.

The public schools are funded by a combination of state, county and, to a lesser extent, federal funds. Preliminary state funding figures will not be available until late January or early February, he said. Finance staff has estimated state funding at $95.8 million, about $1.9 million more than the current year.

Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, said St. Mary’s County government officials have not yet offered any target numbers, but did note their allocation might be adjusted up or down based on actual state funding granted to the schools.

Martirano’s proposal includes a request of $98.5 million from county government, an increase of about $8 million.

The superintendent’s proposed budget includes a “placeholder” of $2.7 million to fund new expenses that might arise from negotiations with school employee unions.

“We are in the initial phases with those bargaining units,” Martirano said.

Martirano said it would cost about $1.1 million to fund a 1 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees, and another $1.9 million to pay for one salary step increase to all eligible employees.

“It’s hard for a lot of folks to believe we are operating on a bare-bones budget when you talk about the raw numbers,” board member Cathy Allen said.

However, she said she remembers the past when relatively more money was available. Now, she said, employees are having to do much more work.

“It’s not a whole lot of money, it really isn’t,” based on the increased needs and growth of the school system, Raspa said.

He said that the overwhelming number of teachers in the system are considered highly qualified, and the technological improvement occurring are important.

“Our kids need this type of materials and instruction” to be prepared for college and careers, he said.

The budget includes an additional $700,000 in recurring funds to continue moving to a leased computer system. Administrators hope to eventually provide computers or digital tablets to all students.

While average student-to-teacher ratios have remained relatively stable, other staffing has suffered during recent several years as the number of students and amount of building space have grown, Martirano said. Building service workers, maintenance, counselors and other areas are short-staffed, he said.

“We’ve got to tend to these arenas,” he said.

Other major expenses include funding retirement and pension benefits, and increases to health and life insurance.

The budget proposal includes using $1 million of the school system’s fund balance, about half of what is available.

The school board will hold a work session on the budget on Jan. 28, a public hearing on Feb. 5 and anticipates sending a proposed budget to the county commissioners on March 1.

“Are you worried about, it is an election year?” board member Marilyn Crosby asked the superintendent.

He said he will continue to keep his focus on the education of students.

“Everybody has a vested interest in education in this community,” Martirano said.

jyeatman@somdnews.com