LA PLATA, Md. (Jan. 13, 2008)—Superintendent James E. Richmond presented a $304.6 million budget to the Board of Education on Tuesday, saying the main focus is student achievement, keeping successful academic programs in place and keeping direct cuts to the classroom to a minimum.
The budget reflects a $5.1 million increase, or 1.7 percent, more than this year. Richmond said state funding is expected to increase only $70,900 and the county request is estimated at $5.4 million, or 3.7 percent. The county and state totals are preliminary estimates, and Richmond said he knows "we are facing the most austere and difficult times in well over a decade."
Richmond said the fiscal year 2010 budget is tight, and only includes increases for mandatory costs. "Since state funding has essentially evaporated in 2010, we will rely to a greater degree on funding from the Charles County Commissioners to prevent deep cuts from being made to the education budget," Richmond said. Negotiated items, such as employee wage increases, are on hold until the school system receives better funding estimates. Mandatory costs include health insurance increases, transportation contract increases including bus replacements and additional buses, and utility and service contract increases.
"We have endured several rounds of budget cuts already and expect more to be imposed in the coming weeks
We have taken a number of steps to create savings by holding positions open, deferring purchases of technology and other equipment, and cutting back discretionary spending as it relates to food, travel and staff development. These actions have been taken to cushion the impacts of past and anticipated future cuts," Richmond said.
Paul Balides, assistant superintendent of budget and finance, cautioned the Board that the funding estimates are not final and are based on data from the Maryland State Department of Education, which may likely be reduced. Balides added that there are caveats with respect to the school system's estimates, including a $3.5 million decrease if the geographic cost of education index (GCEI) is cut, additional reductions due to an accounting error by the state, and transferring state retirement costs back to the county.
County revenues, Balides said, are not confirmed. The budget includes the base budget provided by the county this school year plus an incremental increase above the maintenance of effort level. "It is unlikely that we will know the level of county funding until late spring," Balides said.
The largest cost increase is expected in health insurance. The budgeted $3.7 million increase is based on estimates from CareFirst. Last year, the school system raised prescription co-payments and made other changes to curtail health insurance cost increases. Health care is a negotiated benefit with the unions and any changes must be made by mutual agreement.
Of particular concern, Richmond said, are the issues and proposals that may be considered in Annapolis during this legislative session. Possible actions include:
-- reducing or eliminating GCEI funding;
-- requiring local jurisdictions to fund part or all of teacher retirement costs;
-- imposing additional unfunded mandates;
-- waiving maintenance of effort requirements; and
-- not fully addressing the impact of the state accounting error, which may negatively impact all but Montgomery County next year.
Richmond reiterated his focus on student achievement and said, "We have made great progress over the years and I do not want to see our efforts stalled or reversed. I am confident that our staff will continue to be our greatest resource, and we will make our final recommendations in the best interest of both staff and students," Richmond said.
Source: The Charles County public school system