Raises will not be funded for more than 2,000 employees of the St. Mary’s County public schools next fiscal year, the county commissioners decided Tuesday afternoon.
Any shortfall that remains in the school budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, will be addressed later this summer, the commissioners also said.
The commissioners approved Tuesday the school board’s budget for fiscal 2015, pegging it at the same dollar amount already agreed to May 13 — $93.9 million of local dollars of a $194.7 million total budget. But since then school officials have altered their spending plan, using money originally planned for pay raises to cover health-care costs for next year that were earlier underestimated.
The commissioners did not address raises for school employees Tuesday, but since they declined to add any new money to next year’s budget, no new salary step increases, reclassifications or cost-of-living raises in fiscal 2015 were funded.
Anna Laughlin, president of the Education Association of St. Mary’s County, said after the meeting, “We are going to be two [salary] steps behind and another year without” a cost-of-living adjustment.” And because teachers will be paying having to pay more for health insurance premiums, “teachers will be making less money than in 2009,” she said.
Laughlin said 92 percent of 800-plus educators surveyed by her union have signed a pledge they would not perform additional duties in the upcoming school year unless job cuts are restored and pay raises are funded.
That would include coaching sports, advising clubs and other extracurricular activities “that are not directly connected to our basis educator assignment,” Laughlin said.
The fiscal 2015 budget also cut 35.5 full-time jobs in the school system, mostly teachers and/or instructional resource teachers. 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.
Other job cuts include an executive director, several supervisor and related positions, three school safety assistants and several building service and maintenance workers.
No layoffs are planned; the jobs are expected to be cut through retirement and resignations.
“We shall not accept or participate in assignments for extra duties that are not directly related to instruction or to our primary assignment,” the EASMC pledge said. “At such time as the defined additional county funding is provided, then we the undersigned will reconsider our position in order to provide extra time for the extra activities ...” the pledge continued.
There are approximately 2,190 teaching and nonteaching school employees and about 17,840 students.
School Superintendent Michael Martirano called the new 2015 budget a “refined budget that I’m completely confident in,” and said it is “trying to preserve the overall integrity in the classroom.”
There is a still a $6.6 million shortfall in the school board’s current budget, mainly from health care costs coming in higher than anticipated. The school board plans to absorb most of the shortfall itself, but asked the county commissioners for at least another $782,000.
“We have taken extreme measures in ’14,” Martirano said in covering those deficits.
After long discussion, the commissioners agreed to wait until fiscal 2014 ends on June 30 to see what the actual deficits for the current year are. Budget amendments could be made in August. It will be that month when St. Mary’s County government has a better sense of how much local income tax dollars have come back from the state.
As of this month, chief financial officer Elaine Kramer said income tax dollars are $1 million behind in distributions from the state than where they were last fiscal year.
“The reality is we’re not at the end of the year,” she said. “The final results will likely vary.”
The school system will still have cash flow and be able to pay its bills in the meantime, she said.
Martirano said the current budget deficit would be “a personal and professional challenge ... to solve this internally.”
Commissioner Larry Jarboe (R) said, “I believe come August we will now the final numbers. We will deal with this in August.”
Sal Raspa, school board chairman, thanked the commissioners for what had been “a peaceful, workable conversation.” Waiting until the fiscal year ends, “It doesn’t put any strain on anybody at this time.”
Commissioner Dan Morris (R) said the board of education has “made significant steps” in reducing the number of jobs in its budgets, which he called “trimming down the fat.” He said of the $782,000 deficit the school board still hasn’t covered, “to me, that’s a lot of money. I don’t want the teachers punished. I don’t want the students punished. I don’t want supplies cut.”
If there have to be furloughs, “furlough the administrators,” he said.
Kramer said there are “no drastic actions” needed to cover the remaining deficit.
“I don’t want to see the board of education fall to rock bottom,” Jarboe said. “There’s no sense pointing fingers at anyone. Let’s point the fingers to a solution.”
Staff writer Jesse Yeatman contributed to this report.