Lean budget expected for Baltimore County schools, even with pension allocation

Baltimore County Public Schools officials said during a budget briefing Tuesday that school funding from the county government would not exceed "maintenance of effort" levels for the fourth straight year, for the fiscal year 2014 budget.

Maintenance of effort essentially means that the budget will cover what it covers now — without any expansion of services or programs.

But even with that, there's often some increase to cover rising expenses on existing programs. For the coming year, that will include an additional $19.9 million to cover the county's obligation for pension funds that have been shifted from the state, and also just over $10 million to account for enrollment increases, according to Barbara Burnopp, BCPS chief financial officer.

Speaking on Oct. 23 at the Board of Education meeting in Towson, Burnopp said the lack of additional funds "puts a lot of burden on the board and the staff to be creative with our resources."

Baltimore County government is expected to provide 54.2 percent of the school system budget, while the remaining 43.70 percent will be funded by the state. Burnopp said state funding is likely to increase, but not in an amount that would allow much money to be budgeted toward new programs or initiatives.

The school board had the briefing to give an overview and let "the board members know they climate we're expecting," Burnopp said.

Over the past two months, budget office officials have met with the board, community groups and area advisory councils to discuss what each population would like to see included in the budget plan.

Burnopp said the feedback will be analyzed, and in conjunction with the goals laid out in Superintendent S. Dallas Dance's Blueprint 2.0, will be used when the budget proposal is submitted to the board in January.

Burnopp cautioned that the school system will again have to prioritize and redirect funds where they're needed most.

And as the budget office prepares for a fourth straight budget with little to no funds for new initiatives and programs, she said deciding where to take and give funds "gets harder every year."

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