- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s school board and superintendent are facing a potential budget deficit this year, with consequences that will likely spill over into the next school year.
Superintendent Michael Martirano plans to give information to the school board at its public meeting today, April 9, about issues that are impacting the current year’s budget that could have an impact on fiscal year 2015, said Greg Nourse, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources. He would not say Tuesday how large of a deficit the school board might be facing.
Nourse cited overages in utilities and costs associated with this year’s harsh winter as unforeseen costs as contributing factors to the budget problems.
He also confirmed that some temporary workers have been laid off at St. Mary’s public schools and there may be more cuts to come.
Contracted employees are not members of the school unions, and include some special education paraeducators, safety and security assistants, maintenance workers and others. The school system began in 2012 hiring these workers — as many as 200 at any time — through a private firm.
“Every department is taking a look at who they have in terms of contracted, hourly employees ... and what they would be able to release” to save money, Nourse said. “Other people are going to have to take on those tasks.”
Liz Leskinen, the UniServ director who oversees negotiations for the St. Mary’s teachers union, said she had received several calls from former workers for Abacus Corp., who said they were abruptly told to stop working last week.
A call to the local office coordinating Abacus employees for St. Mary’s public schools confirmed that “a small number” of employees were pulled recently from their work at schools for budgetary reasons.
The school’s finance officer monthly gives the school board an update and presents a financial report outlining how much money is coming in and how much is being spent.
According to the report dated Feb. 28, which was presented to the school board in early March, there were no significant cost overruns. There were about a half-dozen line items that were at least $10,000 over what had been budgeted for the year, but Nourse said at the time that those items could likely be addressed with shifting money internally from other categories.
However, according to the March 31 report, which was due to be presented at today’s meeting, things no longer look so rosy. There are a dozen line items listed that are at least $10,000 over budget. Contracted services are running over budget by $507,000 in six categories — administration, mid-level administration, other instructional costs, special education, student personnel services and operation of plant.
Employees’ health care in February showed about $1.6 million left out of the $16.8 million budgeted. By the end of March, however, more than $17 million had been spent so far this fiscal year, placing the line item in the red with three months left in the year.
“The superintendent is going to talk about the budget and some of the shortfalls and shortcomings,” Sal Raspa, chair of the school board, said Tuesday.
He said health insurance is over budget because of some catastrophic claims put in by employees. “Being self insured, that can create a problem,” he said of the large claims that quickly add up.
Negotiations in limbo
Leskinen, as well as other people contacted for this report who said they look at the monthly financial reports, said she was unsure how the deficits appeared so quickly.
“I am concerned about the urgency,” she said.
She said negotiations with teacher and staff unions for contracts for the next school year had been put on hold after the county commissioners said they would fund only $4 million of the requested $9 million increase in the school board’s budget. She puts that onus on the commissioners for not fully funding the education budget request from the school board.
However, if there is a major deficit in this year’s budget, she said the blame would lie elsewhere.
Leskinen said she was not prepared to back down in negotiations for salary increases for teachers. Teachers by law cannot strike in Maryland.
Unions and school boards can declare an impasse when negotiations can’t be worked out. The sides must then go to arbitration with a third party to work out differences.
Teachers can also “work-to-rule,” where they only work the negotiated seven hours a day. Leskinen said about half of the union members find work-to-rule effective while many say it only negatively impacts students.
The school administrators union last month reached a tentative agreement for pay raises, but that will have to be reopened now, according to Alex Jaffurs, supervisor of math and president of the St. Mary’s County Association of Supervisors and Administrators. He said he received a letter last week asking to reconvene the negotiations between the union and school board representatives due to budgetary reasons.