School board approves $344.2 million budget
Signs contracts with unions, hears from public about transgender policy, buses
The Charles County Board of Education capped off a marathon seven-and-a-half hour meeting with final approval of the $344.2 million fiscal year 2017 budget.
The approved budget is 3 percent more than last year’s budget, but $7.8 million less than school system Superintendent Kimberly Hill had initially asked of Charles County government, the difference being deducted primarily from funds set aside for
negotiations with the county teachers’ union.
When she first proposed her budget, Hill said the money might be used to make up two salary step increases which teachers did not receive in fiscal years 2011 and 2015.
Education Association of Charles County President Linda McLaughlin said she was disappointed Charles County teachers would go without the step increases for another year, but remained hopeful they would be made up in future years.
“Though educators are still two steps behind, we appreciate the work that was put in with salaries as a top priority,” McLaughlin said. “Though negotiations for this year have come to a close, our work is not done and will not be done until all our educators are on the correct step and being compensated for the awesome job done every single day.”
Earlier in the meeting, negotiating representatives from the school system, the EACC, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the union for administrators and support personnel signed new contracts with the school system after the board voted to approve the negotiated agreements.
The school board also approved a 2.8 percent increase for in-state and out-of-state tuition for non-Charles County residents — increasing it to an annual rate of $7,655 and $11,980, respectively — with additional charges for special education services.
Randy Sotomayor, executive director of finance and business, said the increase is in line with the previous year’s increase of approximately 3 percent.
The school system also recognized participants in this year’s “Read Across Charles County” event. The Charles County Chapter of NAACP sent male African-American volunteers to read in each elementary school in the county.
“It’s important for students to see more African-American men in our schools,” NAACP chapter president Janice Wilson said.
Thirty-three speakers addressed the board during its public forum later in the evening, which was attended by more than 120 people. The majority of those who spoke did so regarding the school system allowing transgender students to use the bathroom facilities which match their gender identity on a case-by-case basis, in line with guidance received from the U.S. Department of Education last month.
Nineteen parents and pastors and one student spoke out against allowing transgender students to use the facilities which match their gender identity.
Nicholas Shutters, a rising junior at La Plata High School, said it was not fair for him to have to use the single-use bathroom in another part of the school to avoid sharing facilities with a transgender student.
“That’s discrimination against me. Being transgender is not a condition, it’s a choice,” Shutters said. “If you’re born with a male part, you use the male bathroom; if you’re born with a female part, you use the female bathroom.”
Heather McNaughton, parent of two students attending Dr. James Craik Elementary, said the issue of transgender facility usage is a very sensitive and very difficult subject.
“I do not know what the answer is. I understand the … concern of having transgender individuals in bathrooms,” McNaughton said. “But I will say that if we truly want to raise global, caring, loving, compassionate children, to create a new future, we need to teach our children love, acceptance, inclusion and understanding.”
Following the public comments, school board member Victoria Kelly requested that the issue of transgender bathroom usage be placed on a future agenda. The school board’s next meeting will be in August.
Eleven other individuals spoke in regards to the school system’s use of contract companies to provide school bus services. The majority of those speaking were contract company owners and bus drivers in favor of keeping the current system.
Calvin Compton, owner of Compton Bus Services, said that union organizers are trying to destroy the contract bus system in Southern Maryland.
“We have many wonderful employees who are greatly valued, but it really makes me mad that there are a few disgruntled employees who are making it difficult for the rest of us,” Compton said. “Many of my employees have asked me to do something to stop the so-called union organizers from bothering them.”
Keith McGirt, a Charles County bus driver, urged the school system to hire drivers directly.
“We’re asking for fairness across the board,” McGirt said. “The reality is, our drivers are suffering. They’re suffering, and they need an even playing ground.”
Charles County bus driver Mary Stetler said she did not see any reason to change a system that works.
“You are being asked to eliminate 26 county businesses,” Stetler said. “Please leave our contractors in place. Please do not accept the word of anyone that says they speak for all county bus drivers, because no one can ever speak for all drivers, and no one has ever asked to speak for me.”
The Charles County Board of Education boardroom was filled to capacity Tuesday evening during the public comment portion of the meeting. Thirty-three individuals spoke, most regarding transgender student bathroom usage and bus transportation.