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One week after Howard County schools Superintendent Michael Martirano unveiled a plan to erase the school system’s nagging health fund deficit, school board member Christina Delmont-Small said there is no guarantee the $15.2 million he seeks from the school system’s unassigned general fund will be available.

The issue was front and center Monday during the Board of Education’s quarterly meeting with the County Council and a budget work session the following day.

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In a memo sent to the Board of Education on Jan. 8, Martirano laid out his blueprint to erase the $39.2 million deficit by fiscal 2022. The plan would eliminate the deficit by having the school system cover two-thirds of the deficit with the county paying the rest. As outlined, the county would pitch in $9 million in fiscal 2021 and $4 million the following fiscal year.

The deficit in the school system’s employee health and dental fund is the result of money being taken across seven years to pay for various other expenses. The health and dental fund began to shrink in 2011 and went into the red in 2016.

Both Martirano and the school board hope to access $15.2 million from the school system’s unassigned general fund, but the council said Monday the plan can’t move forward without approval from County Executive Calvin Ball and the County Council by law.

“We want to use the [$15.2 million] this year. That’s in limbo as to whether or not we are going to be able to do it,” Delmont-Small said Monday.

If Ball approved the use of the funds, he would file a bill through the County Council Chairwoman Deb Jung to allow for their transfer.

At Tuesday’s school board budget work session, county Budget Administrator Holly Sun said Ball needs “to take some time to go over the multiyear plan [and] things need to be discussed.”

Delmont-Small expressed her frustration that the school board does not ultimately determine how to use the school system’s own unassigned fund, saying it “should not be a decision of the Howard County government.”

School Board Vice Chairwoman Vicky Cutroneo agreed. “This is our plan and we should be allowed to execute our plan,” she said.

In a phone interview, Sun said the county wants to work collaboratively with the school system to find a solution.

School board member Jen Mallo suggested staggering the $15.2 million county payment, applying $10.2 million in fiscal 2021 and the rest the following fiscal year.

As a result of not reducing the deficit in fiscal 2019, the school system received an adverse opinion in a yearly report from New York-based public accounting firm CohnReznick. That opinion has the potential to affect the county’s AAA bond rating, according to CohnReznick.

During the work session Tuesday, Cutroneo said the adverse opinion could affect the bond rating, which, in turn, could affect the funding the school system receives from the county.

The school board passed a motion by a 5-1 vote that, if received, the $15.2 million would be used toward paying off the health deficit and not for operating costs. Tuesday’s vote reaffirmed the school board’s November vote to approve a request from the superintendent to use $15.2 million from the system’s unassigned general fund to pay down the deficit.

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