- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The public hearing on the St. Mary’s County commissioners’ next budget was lightly attended Tuesday evening. But most of those who did show up asked the commissioners to fully fund the school board’s funding request, while others sought funding to deal with the epidemic of drug abuse.
The St. Mary’s County commissioners’ proposed $220 million budget includes $93.9 million for public schools, an increase of $4 million. The school system had requested a total increase of $9 million.
An operating deficit of around $6 million in the public school system in the current budget was not addressed in detail Tuesday evening. Superintendent Michael Martirano told the commissioners at the hearing there are unexpected costs in snow removal, health care and special education. He requested additional time with the commissioners to address those concerns, along with compensation issues for school employees.
The commissioners are scheduled to meet with the board of education about budget issues Monday, April 28.
At Tuesday’s hearing, several public school employees said they don’t make enough money to make ends meet.
“The cost of living here is almost over my head now,” said Phyllis Smith of Callaway. “I’m here asking the county commissioners not to forget about people like me. Give us a decent salary so we may continue to support our hometown.”
Jill Norris, vice president of the Collective Education Association of St. Mary’s County, said its employees clean schools, fix computers, serve meals, transport students and offer other support services. “We are the working poor of St. Mary’s County public schools. Many of us do not earn a living wage,” she said. As a special education paraeducator at Hollywood Elementary School, she said, she takes home $293.49 a week after taxes are taken out.
“Please don’t penalize us when you’re thinking about your budget,” Norris said.
“Poor school systems are the ultimate disservice to our children,” said Terri Griest of Great Mills, who noted that more children with forms of autism are entering the school system.
Sheila O’Brien-Fisher read a statement from the president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County that said the school system is “woefully underfunded” year after year. “Here we are overworked to the breaking point and broke,” she said. With demoralizing public statements from the commissioners, “It’s time to stop looking to Moakley Street with contempt,” she said. The administrative offices of the public schools are on Moakley Street in Leonardtown.
Janice Walthour, first vice president of the St. Mary’s County chapter of the NAACP, asked for full funding of the board of education’s request. With the highly compensated, high-tech jobs at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, the wealth needs to be shared among other professions to “eliminate economic disparities,” she said.
She also noted the “looming crisis of drug addiction,” and said there is an “urgent need of funding to study this issue. Let’s build and fill up the teen center and not the detention center,” she said.
Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County health officer, said there is a need for a more concerted effort on drug abuse. She suggested it may be time for the county commissioners to fund some efforts such as “evidence-based interventions.”
Cherry Daniels of the Longview Beach Club Association in Bushwood asked for funding to fix the private network of roads in the older, waterfront neighborhood. “We do everything ourselves. We’ve been doing it for years,” she said.
The St. Mary’s County Historic Preservation Commission requested $3,900 to obtain a grant to develop a detailed inventory of the county’s archaeological sites.
The commissioners have a reserve of $802,552 and may decide how to allocate in upcoming meetings before the budget is finalized by the end of May.
The public comment period remains open until April 25.