Although the outlook for Frederick County Public Schools’s fiscal 2013 budget remains uncertain, school officials on Tuesday received some encouragement about the state of their finances.
Commissioner Blaine Young (R) told school officials that, if state legislators do not shift the responsibility for teacher pensions to counties, he would recommend a one-time, $3.2 million transfer to help the school board recover from state cuts.
Frederick County commissioners already have budgeted $3 million to make up for the potential added cost of teacher pensions, and commissioners could allocate an additional $200,000 for the school board, he said.
The General Assembly failed to agree to a pension shift in the waning days of the legislative session, but some think the proposal could be revived if Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) calls a special session.
The county transfer, however, would not recur next year.
“If it doesnt happen, I’ve never been against giving a one-time contribution outside of the maintenance of effort,” Young said.
At a meeting between school officials and the county commissioners on Tuesday, school officials expressed appreciation for the offer.
"Well, we really like that scenario a lot better than finding $9 million to cover the doomsday budget," said county schools superintendent Theresa Alban, referring to the state’s cut to education funding.
But at this stage it still is too early to determine if that offer would help the school system, which is concerned about having to make deep cuts to its proposed $515.1 million fiscal 2013 budget to make up for a $9.7 million blow dealt to them by state legislators.
The General Assembly’s failure to pass a tax plan or a budget bill to help balance the state’s budget before the close of the session on April 9 triggered a so-called doomsday budget, which includes $512 million in cuts to education, libraries, public safety and other programs statewide.
For Frederick County that means a loss of $9.7 million in state education funding.
The budget will take effect July 1 unless a special session is staged.
Frederick County school board members say it might be difficult to absorb the blow without additional cuts.
“This affects education across the state. This budget is frightening,” said school board president Angie Fish, who said filling a $9.7 million hole in the budget would have a “devastating impact” on schools.
“Everything will be back on the table,” Fish said.
The school system’s proposed fiscal 2013 budget — which is lower than last year’s approved $516.8 million spending plan — already includes furlough days for staff, as well as the elimination of 40 media assistants.
When the Frederick County school board in February balanced the budget proposal, school officials considered increasing class sizes at the secondary level by one student — a measure which could save $2.5 million by eliminating 44.9 teaching positions in grades six to 12.
But fearing a negative effect on students, board members instead trimmed the resource pool that was put aside for teacher salary increases. The pool now is down to $5.1 million, and it might have to be reduced further if the state cuts become final, Fish said.
“None of these cuts are cuts that we want to make,” said Fish, who added the school board does not have a specific plan for addressing the shortfall just yet.
The board is scheduled to discuss its budget May 9, and that might become a part of the conversation, Fish said.
“I am hopeful that [O’Malley] will hold a special session so we won’t have to face the devastating impact of these cuts,” she said.
Board member Brad Young agreed.
He said if the cuts become final, the school board will have to go back and re-evaluate every item in the budget.
Reducing the salary resource pool for teachers and increasing class sizes will have to be part of that discussion, Young said.
According to Takira Winfield, a spokeswoman for O’Malley, the governor wants to meet with Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch this week before he decides whether to call a special session.
“He wants to make sure there is a consensus,” Winfield said.