Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said Monday that the mandatory delivery of the minimum state funding estimate to the school system, known as maintenance of effort, complicated this year’s budgeting process and was the reason he reallocated funds for schools in mid-May.
In a letter sent May 17 to the Board of Education, Ball proposed reallocating funds in his fiscal 2022 budget to give an additional $4 million to the county public school system, a decision Ball said he could only make after the county understood this year’s maintenance of effort level, which came to $620.3 million.
To cover the reallocation in the budget, Ball proposed a roughly yearlong delay in the implementation of the police department’s body-worn camera program, defunding staffing vacancies in the county and restructuring costs associated with opening the new Howard County Circuit Courthouse in Columbia.
“Working collaboratively with our partners with the school system and the County Council along with all of our various departments, that was the appropriate starting point to send to the council so that they could continue their deliberations,” Ball said of the $4 million reallocation.
Ball said his administration knew the council would allocate more funds to education on its own. Ultimately, the council approved an additional $9.34 million be taken from other county spending plans and given to the school system. Of that, $2.5 million will go toward paying down the system’s health and dental fund deficit, $1.5 million will go to the schools’ portion of the operating budget and $5.34 million will go to systemic school renovation within the capital budget.
“So once we had a clear level of what that [maintenance of effort] was, we worked really hard to evaluate and adjust the budget accordingly, working with the school system and just keeping the County Council in the loop as things unfolded,” Ball said.
The result was a budget $10.5 million above maintenance of effort, which Ball said is the largest increase above the baseline total in seven years.
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Part of this state funding formula is based on enrollment, which has dropped in public school systems across the state during the global coronavirus pandemic. The state legislature, however, passed a bill earlier this year that kept enrollment declines from being factored into minimum funding levels for the upcoming academic year.