- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The St. Mary’s school board this week sent a revised budget for next year to the county commissioners that no longer includes money for employee raises, and cuts approximately 35 jobs.
The revised budget, which keeps the same bottom line of $194.7 million proposed earlier this year, includes an additional $8.5 million for employee and retiree health insurance than was budgeted for the current year.
The changes were needed to address a projected shortfall in budgeted health care costs that was discovered earlier this year.
About $4 million in next year’s budget that was anticipated to go to salary hikes was moved into health care costs. The $2.5 million saved by the job cuts will go to health care as well.
The new amount budgeted for next year’s employee and retiree health insurance — $27.1 million — coupled with an increase of about 15 percent to employee health insurance premiums, will accurately reflect projections made by CareFirst, the school system’s health insurance provider, for next year’s health care costs, according to Tammy McCourt, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources.
McCourt said the new figures include a $625,000 health care fund reserve.
The school board last spring put in less money than projected by CareFirst for health care costs in the current year’s budget and is scrambling to cover an approximate $6 million shortfall by the time the fiscal year ends June 30.
Schools will be asked to reduce the number of teachers next school year by “basically, one position per school,” Superintendent Michael Martirano said. No layoffs are planned; the jobs are expected to be cut through retirement and resignation.
It will be up to each principal to decide whether the job cut is a classroom teacher or an instructional resource teacher, whose jobs include assisting other teachers with data review and working with small groups of special education and academically gifted students.
In addition to the teacher reductions, schools will cut another approximately dozen positions from the central office and supporting services.
Those positions include an executive director, director, several supervisor and related positions, three school safety assistants and several building service and maintenance workers.
The school board had planned to give raises next year, which must be negotiated with employee unions. Shifting that money to cover health care costs prompted calls from employees to ask the commissioners for more money.
“The mood out there is as bad as I’ve ever seen it,” Anna Laughlin, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County, said during a public comment portion of the meeting.
She said that teachers are now faced with no raises and increased health care premiums, essentially equating a pay cut.
“What I want to know from the community is where is the public outrage?” Laughlin said. “Our community doesn’t seem to appreciate what we have here,” she said, adding that St. Mary’s school system will not continue to be first class without proper funding.
Any increase this late in the budget season would have to come as a supplemental appropriation. On Tuesday, the commissioners signed the county government budget for next fiscal year, which did not change the appropriation to the schools.
“We are talking to the commissioners [in public and private] to try to get some additional money for compensation,” board member Cathy Allen said.
The school board planned to send a letter this week along with the revised fiscal year 2015 budget to the commissioners, requesting a supplemental increase that would be used specifically for employee raises.
The letter does not state a specific amount of money, but does mention seeking “parity” with county employees, who will be awarded one step pay increase next year. It would cost about $2 million to offer all eligible school employees one step increase, which is based on years of service.
“We can ask for anything, but they are the funding agents,” Allen said, referring to the ultimate decision resting with the county commissioners.
The commissioners agreed earlier to give an additional $4 million to the school system next year. The state government also is expected to provide an additional $2.8 million beyond its current funding.
Superintendent Michael Martirano said that he had initially asked the county commissioners for more money than what they agreed to give. He and the school board members continued to point to the relatively low funding from the county on a per-pupil basis when compared to what other jurisdictions in Maryland give.
“The fact remains, St. Mary’s county public school system continues to be underfunded,” Sal Raspa, board chair, said.
He said the county commissioners should increase the funding of the school system so it can remain at a high-performing level.
The school board plans to meet with the county commissioners again on May 27 to finalize next year’s budget.