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Despite $7.3 million deficit, teachers request funding for salary adjustments

By AMANDA SCOTT

Staff writer

It’s definitely another challenging year for the county’s budget, given a $7.36 million deficit that isn’t projected to be paid in full despite using some of the county’s savings.

On Tuesday night, the Department of Finance and Budget presented its staff recommended budget of $239,874,936 for fiscal 2015 with a projected $7,368,317 deficit. Planned use of $3.5 million of assigned fund balance and $2,376,936 of unassigned fund balance lower the deficit to $1,491,677.

The remaining deficit represents ongoing expenses that are being funded by savings — a one-time revenue source.

“If this continued without a planned resolution, we’d have real troubles,” Director of Finance and Budget Tim Hayden said.

The deficit portion being covered by fund balance “can be thought of as discretionary,” Hayden said, explaining that “we would make it through the next year without funding them. Each would create its own issues, but we’d be OK.”

“Our estimates reveal that we have some good news, and we have some not-so-good news,” County Administrator Terry Shannon said. The good news is property assessments are beginning to stabilize, and there may be some increase in income tax revenue, she said. The bad news, she said, is that revenue is remaining the same while expenditures are increasing. “What you see tonight is not a balanced budget.”

The county commissioners are tentatively scheduled to present their budget May 20 at 7 p.m. at Calvert Pines Senior Center in Prince Frederick.

Following the presentation Tuesday evening, the public had an opportunity to comment on the budget, which mainly consisted of Calvert County Public Schools teachers and staff requesting additional funding for steps and cost of living adjustment increases.

In fiscal 2015, the county is proposed to fund CCPS nearly $110 million, not including debt service, state pension costs, other post employment benefits and capital expense transfers related to the board of education. With those items included, the county is funding education with about $123.4 million in fiscal ’15.

Interim Superintendent Nancy V. Highsmith requested the commissioners fund an additional $1.6 million to education for health care costs — which, she said, if left unfunded by the county, the board of education would have to fund the cost at the expense of about 28 teachers.

She acknowledged and thanked the commissioners for “holding harmless” on funding this next fiscal year despite declining enrollment. Then, Highsmith addressed the room full of teachers and school staff, saying, “I’m not asking for any salary increases due to the tough economic times our county is facing. … I have asked Calvert County public school employees to please sacrifice one more time as not to disrupt the outstanding programs we have in place for our students. We have a dedicated and professional group of employees who value students and students’ successes, but rising costs for everyday expenses is putting our employees further and further behind.”

But the majority of the 26 speakers disagreed, calling for their step and cost of living adjustments as stated in their contracts.

CCPS teacher Ashley Kenny, who graduated from Northern High School in 2006 and returned to the county to teach, said, “I just want to be compensated for my work and time.”

Many of the CCPS employees noted the extra workload and time they have to put into their job because of newly mandated curriculum, assessments and evaluations — time, they said, for which they aren’t being compensated.

Beach Elementary School teacher Lori Idol said, “It is disappointing to know how hard we teachers work and how little respect we receive. This was shown by the previous superintendent and his people. Apparently, they believed that they were more deserving of money than those of us in the trenches.”

Resident Richard Adams, whose wife is a teacher, said he isn’t seeing leadership or a plan from the county commissioners to solve the financial problem.

“We have created a problem in that we are not addressing revenue. We have talked about expenditures. Keep that in mind. Keep that in mind when you vote,” he said. “Well-educated citizens are key to our economic future. That can only happen with well-qualified teachers. We can attract and retain well-qualified teachers only if they are properly compensated. Put your money where your mouth is. We get what we pay for. You’re investing in our future.”

Adams said the money the county could have received from the proposed Dominion Cove Point liquefied natural gas export facility, had the commissioners not given the company tax credits, could be going to the school system and CCPS salaries.

Patuxent High School senior Rachel Warner, who is a member of Future Teachers of America and is planning to become a teacher, requested there be no allocation for steps or COLAs for teachers and beseeched the teachers in attendance to remember why they chose this profession.

“The negativity surrounding teachers has only propelled me forward. I will never stop trying to make teachers understand how truly blessed they are to make a difference in generations beyond their own. If you take away anything tonight, let it be that there are more important reasons you began this career — certainly not for the money.”

CCPS employee Melissa Campbell said teachers have been patient for years waiting for their steps and COLAs.

“It’s not about making $300,000 a year,” she said. “But it’s about supporting our families.”

ascott@somdnews.com