County in­creases ed­u­ca­tion funding in 2018 bud­get

Teach­ers would get STEP ad­just­ments in pro­posed bud­get

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By MICHAEL SYKES II msykes@somd­

The Charles County bud­get has not been passed by the Charles County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers, but a pre­lim­i­nary look at the bud­get shows the county would have a surplus of just $262,800.

The county’s pro­posed bud­get rev­enues stand at $389,852,100 with the pro­posed ex­pen­di­tures com­ing in at $389,589,300, ac­cord­ing to David Ei­choltz, the di­rec­tor of fis­cal and ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vices for the county.

Even still, the county com­mis­sion­ers voted to ex­pand the Charles County Board of Ed­u­ca­tion’s bud­get by $1.6 mil­lion af­ter

Com­mis­sioner Ken Robin­son (D) made a rec­om­men­da­tion to do so.

Us­ing funding from the county’s ca­ble fran­chise ac­count, the com­mis­sion­ers would add an ad­di­tional $1.3 mil­lion to the school board’s bud­get and use the re­main­der of their surplus to fund the ad­di­tion.

“This ad­di­tion is to en­sure a step in­crease for teach­ers as well as sup­port staff and fund new English learn­ing and spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion po­si­tions,” Robin­son said.

The $1.6 mil­lion ad­di­tion to the school board’s bud­get gives it a $5 mil­lion in­crease over last year’s amount and puts it at $189.5 mil­lion, which is about 48 per­cent of the county’s over­all bud­get.

De­spite the dis­cus­sion over the rest of the bud­get, many ed­u­ca­tors and ed­u­ca­tion ad­vo­cates in the county were pleased to see that there would be a STEP in­crease for teach­ers and staff.

Linda McLaughlin, who is a teacher in Charles County, said her “su­per power” is en­cour­ag­ing and em­pow­er­ing her stu­dents. For the com­mis­sion­ers, she said, their power was vot­ing to in­crease the board of ed­u­ca­tion’s bud­get enough for an in­crease in pay for teach­ers.

“I’ve seen how hard it is to keep great ed­u­ca­tors in a district,” McLaughlin said. “Not only for a few teach­ers, but for all of our ed­u­ca­tors.”

She said teach­ers have been two pay in­creases be­hind their STEP sched­ule and that has made it more dif­fi­cult to main­tain a good qual­ity of life while teach­ing.

Stephanie Wa­lent, an­other ed­u­ca­tor in Charles County, said she was thank­ful for the county’s unan­i­mous de­ci­sion to sup­port a STEP in­crease. “That was huge,” she said.

Teach­ers do not just care about money, she said, as many peo­ple be­lieve. If that was the case, she said, teach­ers would not sub­ject them­selves to be­ing in an at­mos­phere where they feel there is not any­one sup­port­ing them.

Both Com­mis­sion­ers De­bra Davis (D) and Bobby Rucci (D) came up with their own rec­om­men­da­tions for in­creas­ing the school board by $1.6 mil­lion, but were voted down be­cause of the in­crease of funds to other de­part­ments in their rec­om­men­da­tions cre­at­ing a deficit for the county.

Along with the $1.6 mil­lion in funding, Davis and Rucci also pined for the com­mis­sion­ers to in­crease funding to the South­ern Mary­land Tri-County Coun­cil, fund $527,790 to the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice for five ad­di­tional of­fi­cers and add an­other $200,000 in sup­port for the Col­lege of South­ern Mar yland’s new re­gional cam­pus in Hugh­esville.

Those, along with other causes, pushed their bud­get re­quest up to $3.04 mil­lion Charles County Com­mis­sioner Pres­i­dent Peter Mur­phy (D) said those are all things the com­mis­sion­ers want to get done, but they cur­rently do not have the money for it.

“I be­lieve this whole en­tire board would want to sup­port if we had the money for that,” Mur­phy said. “We’ll have an op­por­tu­nity next week to come back and look at the ones that aren’t ad­dressed.”

Ei­choltz said he could not rec­om­mend the rec­om­men­da­tions from Davis and Rucci, but did sup­port Robin­son’s be­cause there was a funding source for it.

The only way the county could af­ford filling all of their re­quests, he said, was by ei­ther rais­ing taxes on cit­i­zens, cut­ting from dif­fer­ent de­part­ments and tak­ing money from the county’s fund bal­ance sav­ings.

“Any­time you have a deficit you have those op­tions,” Ei­choltz said. “It would be very dif­fi­cult for us to go back and cut.”

All of the items are also re­cur­ring costs, Ei­choltz said, which could cre­ate a struc­tural deficit for the boards that fol­low the cur­rent board of county com­mis­sion­ers.

Davis, how­ever, said it is pre­ma­ture to shut down any of their rec­om­men­da­tions. “This was a start­ing point,” she said.

For res­i­dents to main­tain a good qual­ity of life in Charles County, Davis said, the com­mis­sion­ers have to ad­dress the needs of pub­lic safety, ed­u­ca­tion and health of­fi­cials.

Next week, Mur­phy said, they will have the op­por­tu­nity to. Rather than mak­ing a mo­tion on any of his rec­om­men­da­tions, Rucci said he is will­ing to wait and have more di­a­logue with other com­mis­sion­ers about those bud­getary re­quests.

Robin­son said he would be will­ing to work with Rucci and Davis on some of their sug­gested rec­om­men­da­tions to see where the bud­get could po­ten­tially end up and if there are any funding sources avail­able for them.

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