The St. Mary’s school board got its first look at a proposed $234 million operating budget for fiscal 2021, complete with $12 million more and dozens of new positions compared to the current budget.
The 5.6% increase includes more money for contracted bus driver rates, 10 new safety and security assistants, and more staff for the special education department, according to a presentation at Wednesday’s school board meeting.
Superintendent Scott Smith said school employees are his recommended budget’s first priority and “it is the most overwhelming expense.”
Of the $234,524,769 budget, 93% goes to salaries, wages and fixed charges like health care, retirement and social security. The other 7% goes toward everything else, including utilities, transportation, textbooks and technology.
“We are a people-driven enterprise,” Smith said.
The school system expects to get $113.1 million from the state and does not expect the Kirwan Commission, an initiative to increase funding for Maryland public schools, will affect the state funding formula for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1. St. Mary’s is also requesting $113.9 million from the county commissioners.
“We’re asking for $2 million worth of … money from their undesignated fund balance,” Smith said of the commissioners, in addition to the $113.9 million. Smith added that the rest of the school system’s fund balance will soon be used up.
Tammy McCourt, the school system’s assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, gave a further breakdown of each budget category, adding there will be 45 new full-time employees funded by the school system and through grants.
Five new teachers, five new paraeducators, one new special education social worker and one new secretary was added to the special education fund. Grants will provide two new teachers and two new paraeducators. The school system is also expected to fund 10 new security assistants to work in elementary schools.
The transportation budget went up by over 9% after increasing the contracted bus route fee and the hourly contracted driver and attendant rates. Contracted drivers will also see a “50,000 more mileage increase,” McCourt said.
The increase comes after a bus driver protest last spring, when a handful of bus drivers demanded more pay. Many drivers also attended the county commissioners’ public forum Tuesday night to voice salary concerns. Commissioner John O’Connor (R) said he had “all the faith in the world” they would receive it this budget cycle.
Last year, the school board proposed an overall budget of about $224 million, $10.3 million more than the previous fiscal year.
It included $110.6 million from the county, but the commissioners’ contribution to the school system’s operating budget ended up being $106.2 million after budget work sessions last spring.
The school system’s current operating budget is just over $222 million this fiscal year, including $109.9 million from the state and $2.8 million in federal dollars.
A public hearing on the budget is scheduled for Feb. 12, followed by a Feb. 19 work session and expected approval from the school board on Feb. 26, before forwarding the request to the county commissioners.