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In inaugural budget, County Executive Ball gives $605 million to Howard school system

Making education the “top funding priority of his administration,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball is proposing to fund the county school system $605.2 million in his inaugural spending plan for fiscal 2020.

Ball released his $1.7 billion proposed budget Thursday evening, including the $16.2 million increase in funding to the school system over this fiscal year’s budget.

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The 2.8% increase in the school system’s budget is not reflective of the $11 million, one-time fund the school system received last year, according to a county spokesman. When including the one-time fund, the budget has increased by 0.9% from the current fiscal year to fiscal 2020.

The proposed spending plan “provides historically high funding to the school system, community college and library system,” Ball wrote in his letter to Council Chairwoman Christiana Rigby while presenting the entire budget.

However, the county executive excluded funding the school system’s one-time request of $37 million to cap the looming health fund deficit once and for all. The school system received a $11 million one-time fund in the last budget cycle to close the deficit, which is rooted in an imbalance of the school system’s employee health and dental fund.

“I think we are very happy that the county executive is working with us … we have to see how we can meet the needs of all of our students,” said Mavis Ellis, school board chairwoman.

“We are looking forward to having more discussions about what we have received, we have a lot of questions. We want to make sure we have funding for enrollment growth and make sure the obligations that we have made to our unions are funded.”

The school board will meet with schools Superintendent Michael Martirano and other school system staff “to see how we will move forward with our budget,” Ellis added.

Martirano had proposed a nearly $1 billion budget in December that the school board slightly trimmed to a $972.7 million spending plan in February. Martirano had requested a $998.4 million budget proposal, 15.8% larger than this year’s spending plan.

Martirano “is working with staff over the holiday weekend to understand the numbers,” Jahantab Siddiqui, chief communications officer for the school system, said in an email Friday.

The school system has requested additional information from the county, “including their proposed categorical breakdown, to help us with our analysis,” Siddiqui added.

The school board obligations for fiscal 2020 include $32.7 million for negotiated salary increases, $11.1 million to fully fund the health fund and benefits requirements, and $10.7 million for expected enrollment growth, according to the school board’s requested operating budget summary.

Ball’s proposal also includes fully funding the collective bargaining agreement of the respective unions for teachers, administrators and staffs, $64 million for debt service payments for capital projects and other post employment benefit contributions to fund the long-term retiree health benefit needs of school employees and the continuation of support to special education and other school system priorities.

This year’s required maintenance of effort level — a value that demonstrates the level of local and state funding remains relatively constant from year to year for the school system — is $10.8 million. Ball’s proposal is funding $5.4 million above the required level, as stated in the budget.

However, the increase “cannot support our FY 2020 enrollment growth, [and] the board’s commitments or address our needs,” according to the school board’s requested operating budget summary.

“Maintenance of effort is a broken funding formula that has put school systems behind in meeting the complex needs of students,” Colleen Morris, president of the teachers union, said in an email Friday.

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“It is clear that increased revenue streams are necessary to address the growing needs of our diverse student population and provide the high-quality education our community demands.”

The maintenance of effort level will require the school board to increase class sizes across all grades, keep staffing at the fiscal 2018 levels, reduce programs and staff, and add $11.1 million to the health deficit — having it creep back up to $50 million, where it was reported to be at last May.

Historically, the school system has used the strategy of deferring maintenance, instructional resources salaries and increasing class size, Morris said.

Other funding under the “Ready and Successful Students” section of the proposed budget includes:

  • $35.8 million to Howard Community College, a 2.5% increase from fiscal 2019
  • $21.5 million to the Howard County Library System, a 2.5% increase from fiscal 2019
  • $400,000 to HoCo S.T.R.I.V.E.S., or Strategies To Reach an Inclusive Vision and Equitable Solutions, an education initiative that supports children’s mental and behavioral health programs, academic, social and emotional learning supports and community capacity building

“We are grateful to the county executive for investing in our schools, our students and our communities,” Morris said. “Ball's budget recognizes the tremendous impact that our teachers and support staff have in our schools. We will be looking closely at the details as they are released,” she said.

The teachers union is “counting” on the County Council to support the priorities in the budget, she added.

The school board and County Council will have a joint work session April 29.

The council is slated to adopt the entire operating budget May 29, with the school board adopting its operating, capital and capital improvement program budgets May 30.

The county’s budget year begins July 1.

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