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The Charles County school system submitted a budget proposal to the school board Tuesday that focuses on fully funding teacher salaries and opening the new St. Charles High School while maintaining core school programs.

The system will heavily rely on county government for its proposed $342.7 million fiscal 2015 budget, which represents a 6.4 percent increase from last year.

In his presentation to the Charles County Board of Education, Assistant Superintendent of Finance and Business Paul Balides told board members that the system is confident in the superintendent’s proposed budget as it is straightforward, and nothing is hidden.

Balides said the budget process still is in its early stages, and they need to wait to find out what goes on at the state level, but based on projections, he said it looks like the state will increase its funding about $2 million, 1.3 percent.

In years past, the system has seen increases from the state as high as $15 million, and there have been flat years.

Balides said the three factors that go into state funding are enrollment, the amount of students eligible for free and reduced priced meals and county wealth.

Those three factors are all in relation to the other counties, he said.

For example, he said, Charles County had an enrollment decrease of 193 students, and bigger counties saw increases.

“Our enrollment decrease of 193 is pretty problematic,” he said.

Last year the school system was first in terms of increases in FARMS students. Balides said that is not the case this year, and while there has been an increase, the school system ranked ninth, and the state increase will not be as great for that factor.

Balides said due to state numbers likely being flat “the burden will fall on county government.”

The system is requesting a 12 percent increase in county funding, $19.7 million.

Of the $20.7 million increase in the proposed budget, the school system is reserving $8.8 million for teacher salary negotiations. Staff is looking to include a two-level step increase for employees who are eligible.

Balides said two steps would put employee salary scales back where they were negotiated to be, with the second of the two steps making up for the deferred step in 2011.

In a later interview, Education Association of Charles County President Elizabeth Brown said it’s good that the system wants to catch up on teachers’ step increases, agreeing with Balides when he said the longer the system holds off on catching up, the harder it is to do.

Brown’s concern was that to her understanding there was nothing proposed for veteran employees.

Veteran employees who have reached the top of their step increase do not benefit from step increases. They would benefit from a COLA increase. However, there is no plan in the proposal for such an increase, and there hasn’t been since the 2008-09 school year.

In an email statement, Brown wrote that the teachers union is thankful for the $8.8 million placeholder. “We will have to decide exactly how that money will be distributed and that will be done during negotiations,” she wrote. “The EACC has several key concerns for the teachers of Charles County, and without adequate funding from the County Commissioners, we won’t be able to get educators what they deserve.”

The EACC concerns include being one step behind, veteran teachers frozen at the top of the scale and not receiving COLAs, and that there is a group of employees who have a salary scale that is largely uneven and unfair.

“It will cost money to correct that scale,” she wrote.

She added that the workload for teachers has tremendously increased.

“The entire contract is not open this year, only Salary, Extra Pay for Extra Duty and Insurance. We are hopeful that the Commissioners will do the right thing and fully fund the Superintendent’s Budget,” she wrote.

The proposed budget requests $7.7 million for the first phase of the two-phase process to open St. Charles High School.

The request would provide first-year operations with a projected enrollment of 1,000 students.

Balides said the school system also is looking to reduce its fund balance target to $2.2 million, which is $1 million less than last year.

This goal is to reduce the system’s reliance on one-time funding sources to fund operations.

The increase in funds also would go toward funding student resource teachers, teacher pensions and nurses’ contracts.

In order to comply with the law, the school system shows in its proposed budget an increase of 10 cents for school lunches.

The school board will vote on final approval of the budget and submit it to the county in February.

gphillips@somdnews.com