A St. Mary’s public schools town hall gave a couple educators an opportunity to say what they want to see in the fiscal 2021 budget.
Principals Deborah Dennie of Leonardtown Middle School and Beth Ramsey of Green Holly Elementary School sat on a panel with Tammy McCourt, the school system’s assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, at the Dr. James A. Forrest Career and Technology Center on Wednesday evening for a discussion on the proposed $234 million budget.
Dennie said staffing is Leonardtown Middle’s top priority and hopes it’s everyone else’s as well. She said having more teachers could translate to smaller class sizes, which could lead to better student-student and student-teacher relationships.
“It would be great if we could get another nurse,” the Leonardtown principal of over 1,000 students said. She told The Enterprise there were 10,539 nurse visits last school year, and the school has already passed the halfway mark this school year with 5,583 visits.
Although they have a part-time assistant nurse, Dennie said she and her vice principal had to step in to help patch up minor injuries.
McCourt pointed out there is one new nurse in the proposed budget, although she did not say where that position would be stationed.
Jeff Maher, the school system’s chief strategic officer, said the budget invests in people and 93% of the budget goes to staff salaries and fixed charges.
Dennie said the salaries should change to keep staff around.
“I just lost one of my best math teachers in December,” she said, adding that she went to Naval Air Station Patuxent River to make more money.
Ramsey, who taught in Charles County for 10 years, noted that St. Mary’s is a good place to be a teacher, but it’s hard to recruit because other counties offer better pay.
McCourt said St. Mary’s public schools “definitely has the lowest salaries in the tri-county area” and they need to be at a more competitive price.
Superintendent Scott Smith gave a brief overview of the latest budget discussions including the $115.6 million they are requesting from county commissioners this year, $9 million more compared to last year. They are hoping to bring the request down to $113 million.
Smith showed a line graph during his briefing that illustrated what the county was giving the school system between 2013 and 2017 — about $4 million more each year or between 4 and 5% more. But that steady increase stopped growing in 2018 when the school system received $500,000 less than the year before. Since then, they received only 3% increases.
The superintendent said if the commissioners stuck with the upward trend, the school system would be receiving $112 million from the county this year and making smaller requests.
The school board will review and expected to approve the proposed budget next Wednesday, Feb. 26.