In his long career as an educator and administrator, Calvert Board of Education (BOE) President Dr. Eugene Karol admitted balancing the fiscal year (FY) 2010 operating budget for the countyâ€™s public schools will be a daunting task this year.
â€śIâ€™ve never seen a situation as bleak and serious as weâ€™re facing now,â€ť said Karol during the BOEâ€™s Feb. 12 meeting.
For Calvert Superintendent of Schools Jack Smith, the next 10 days will be crucial, as he tries to find a way to balance a budget that currently has a nearly $7.35 million shortfall. That number is a $1.6 million increase from the budget hole reported by Chief Budget and Business Officer Tammy McCourt in January.
Smith will present his budget to the BOE and the public Thursday, Feb. 26 at a public hearing at the Brooks Administrative Building.
â€śWeâ€™re going to go through the budget to find things we can do without,â€ť said Smith, who indicated the worst-case scenario could be the elimination of approximately 133 jobs. About 80 percent of those are teaching positions.
â€śAny cuts should be as far away from the classroom as possible,â€ť said Karol.
Smith indicated that one measure that could be taken is the renegotiation of the final year of the separate three-year pacts made with the Calvert Education Association (CEA), the Calvert Association of Educational Support Staff (CAESS) and the Calvert Association of School Administrators. The three employee groups negotiated 4.5 percent across-the-board salary adjustments for each of the three contract years. Those agreements were made in the late spring of 2007.
â€śWe are in a wait-and-see mode,â€ť said CEA President Debbie Russ. â€śWe are waiting to see the economic stimulus packageâ€™s effect on schools. We are encouraging all teachers to attend the Feb. 26 budget hearing.â€ť
Russ stated late last week that there have been no negotiations between the Calvert County Public Schoolsâ€™ (CCPS) executive staff and CEA officials.
â€śWe want all the information first,â€ť said Russ.
Smith indicated that he has been in touch with the Calvert Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). The superintendent told the BOE that he has sent a letter to the BOCC explaining CCPSâ€™ anticipated FY 2010 budget crisis. The letter also contains information about the school systemâ€™s huge success in shepherding high school students through the controversial High School Assessment (HSA) exams.
â€śA high number, 98 percent, have passed the HSAâ€™s,â€ť said Smith.
The superintendent admitted that the BOCC is currently funding the school system well over its mandatory maintenance of effort figure at a time when many jurisdictions are seeking waivers for the requirement.
Smith also recommended that members of the CCPS executive staff, including himself, have their salaries frozen.
Last year, the BOE approved a 4.5 percent salary increase for Smith. School board members noted that Smithâ€™s salary prior to the increase was the lowest among Marylandâ€™s school superintendents.
â€śLetting teachers and support staff go would not be the answer,â€ť said board member William â€śBillâ€ť Chambers.
â€śWe need to keep the core of our school system solid,â€ť said Smith.
As for eliminating positions by attrition, Smith reported only 23 school system employees have announced their retirements this year.
Assistant Director of Human Resources Dr. Victoria D. Karol confirmed that few of CCPSâ€™ employees with 25 to 30 years of experience are taking the school system up on its offer to opt for retirement. Last year, nearly 60 employees found the incentive of receiving 6 percent of their total salary plus five years of free health coverage too good to pass up. Victoria Karol said some employees who had initially indicated they would take the buyout rescinded that declaration due to the woeful economy.
Smith said last week he is still hoping 75 employees will opt for retirement.
The issue of funding teachersâ€™ retirements is proving to be a political football in Annapolis.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. [D-District 27] has submitted a bill that would shift a portion of the funding responsibility on counties.
â€śItâ€™s a compromise bill,â€ť said Miller late last week. The senate president pointed out that while county officials negotiated contracts with teachers and other school employees, including retirement benefits, the state has to fully fund the retirement package.
â€śItâ€™s an unfunded mandate on the state,â€ť said Miller, whose bill would not impact current school employees. â€śIn this bill, the counties are going to be responsible for any new hires. Thereâ€™s got to be some reevaluation between the counties and the state. Calvert has the highest teacher salaries in the state. If they want to pay them more, they should pay the cost of retirement. â€ť
Last week, Commissionersâ€™ President Wilson H. Parran [D] stated that shifting the teachersâ€™ retirement responsibility to county government would be devastating.
â€śWe couldnâ€™t afford it,â€ť said Parran. â€śIt doesnâ€™t solve the problem.â€ť
Full funding of Calvertâ€™s teacher retirement, said Parran, would require an annual $15 million budget increase. That would likely mean a 15 percent property tax increase, he added.
Board vice president William J. Phalen Sr. said Millerâ€™s bill â€śwould punish those counties that pay their teachers well.â€ť
E-mail Marty Madden at email@example.com.