- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
The budget crisis triggered when St. Mary’s County public school officials badly underestimated, by about $12 million, employee health care costs for the current school year and the next school year has, it appears on the surface, been largely resolved.
The end came quietly. The county commissioners, some of whom talked in April of “possible malfeasance,” “gross negligence” and “certainly mismanagement,” last week quietly approved a budget that gives the public schools the same total amount of funding that they intended to provide before the crisis erupted.
The school superintendent called the revised spending plan for next year a “refined budget that I’m completely confident in.”
The chair of the school board thanked the commissioners for “a peaceful, workable conversation.”
The commissioners said they’ll wait until August to see if the school board still needs help covering its bills from the current fiscal year.
So the public turmoil between the leaders of local government and the leaders of the public schools seems to be over. Last week there were no more excuses, explanations, public recriminations and accusations flying between the two parties. That’s undoubtedly a relief for school officials, who have taken heat for a monumental budget miscalculation. After weeks of rhetoric it may also be in the best interests of the county commissioners, most of whom are running for election to one job or another this year.
But the commissioners last week did not publicly address the written request sent to them earlier by the school board for extra funding next year to provide raises for school employees. The superintendent barely mentioned that request during the public meeting with the commissioners.
So although the budget figures remain the same and health care costs will presumably be covered, the details of the spending plan have changed drastically to plug the gap.
Chief among the consequences, there now will be no raises next school year for any of the roughly 2,000 rank-and-file school workers, as originally scheduled. Actually, teachers, custodians, secretaries principals and teacher aides will all see a reduction in their take-home pay, since the insurance premiums they pay will be raised 15 percent.
There will also be fewer employees working in the schools. About three dozen jobs are being cut. Two-thirds of them are teachers. Principals will have to decide if the job cut in their school is a classroom teacher or an instructional resource teacher.
Some of the commissioners have said repeatedly during all this that they don’t want to see teachers and other school employees punished by what turned out to be a $12 million budget mistake.
Too late for that now.