Me­dia spe­cial­ists back in school bud­get

Record Observer - - Front Page - By HAN­NAH COMBS hcombs@kibay­times.com

CEN­TRE­VILLE — Af­ter much pub­lic out­cry and a pub­lic let­ter from the Queen Anne’s County Com­mis­sion­ers lay­ing the re­spon­si­bil­ity of balancing the school sys­tem’s bud­get squarely on the su­per­in­ten­dent and Board of Ed­u­ca­tion, In­terim Su­per­in­ten­dent Queen Anne’s County Pub­lic Schools Gre­gory Pilewski an­nounced Tues­day, May 30, he he had put fund­ing for ele­men­tary school me­dia spe­cial­ists back in next year’s school bud­get.

Pilewski had an­nounced an­nounced May 24 the school board’s col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions with the lo­cal teach­ers union left the sys­tem with a $1.5 mil­lion short­fall for the com­ing year.

In a let­ter to par­ents, guardians and em­ploy­ees, he wrote, “To im­ple­ment our pro­posed Fis­cal Year (FY) 18 op­er­at­ing bud­get, with salary in­creases a top pri­or­ity, we cur­rently have a $1,500,000 mil­lion dol­lar (sic) fund­ing gap to meet the over­all needs of our school sys­tem. In­crease cost in health­care (sic) for our cur­rent and re­tired em­ploy­ees ($776,000) and in­crease (sic) bus trans­porta­tion costs ($398,450) have cre­ated some unique chal­lenges for this year.”

To elim­i­nate the gap, Pilewski said the school board would elim­i­nate five cen­tral of­fice po­si­tions and one school-based ad­min­is­tra­tor (sav­ing $572,970), re­place all ele­men­tary me­dia spe­cial­ists with me­dia as­sis­tants/para ed­u­ca­tors (sav­ing $264,413) and not hire the four new po­si­tions they had pro­posed (sav­ing $250,000). They would also al­lo­cate “an­tic­i­pated at­tri­tion funds” to meet sys­tem needs ($400,000).

Par­ents and other con­cerned stake­hold­ers who had been plan­ning a march in front of the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion build­ing on Tues­day, May 30, can­celed their plans when the lat­est an­nounce­ment was re­ceived the af­ter­noon of the same day.

“We just want what is best for our stu­dents, said one par­ent who spoke on the con­di­tion of anon­im­ity. “But what we haven’t re­ceived is the trans­parency we asked for.”

Oth­ers post­ing on so­cial me­dia said they were pleased that the board chose to keep the me­dia spe­cial­ists, but they were not com­pletely sat­is­fied that the board put the time and ef­fort into the prob­lem that it de­served, with no idea why the board had taken the ac­tion they chose.

“A lit­tle more open­ness in let­ting peo­ple know that there was a prob­lem in fund­ing and that some dras­tic mea­sures were com­ing would have less­ened the shock,” posted one cit­i­zen.

“It has been very pos­i­tive to re­ceive so much com­mu­nity feed­back on the pro­posed bud­get, in­clud­ing strong sup­port for our ele­men­tary me­dia spe­cial­ists. The com­plex­ity of balancing a bud­get re­quires the school sys­tem to look at ev­ery op­tion while main­tain­ing our core value of set­ting for­ward-think­ing goals bal­anced by a fis­cally con­ser­va­tive ap­proach,” said Pilewski in a state­ment. “To this end, my staff and I have re­assessed each cat­e­gory of ex­pen­di­tures and re-ex­am­ined the de­tailed line items to en­sure that this bud­get re­flects our school sys­tems’ needs in keep­ing with pri­or­i­ties ex­pressed by our county’s lead­ers. As a re­sult, we have been able to re­vise our bud­get in a way that will main­tain th­ese me­dia po­si­tions at ele­men­tary schools for the 2017-2018 school year.”

The me­dia spe­cial­ists’ po­si­tions will be pre­served by draw­ing from the school board’s fund bal­ance, us­ing one-time money to pre­serve th­ese po­si­tions, Pilewski said.

He stressed the funds be­ing used are usu­ally only avail­able for an emer­gency, a con­tin­gency, or one-time costs, such as band uni­forms, and would pro­vide for the po­si­tions only for the 2017-2018 school year.

Some­times the funds are used for main­te­nance projects not al­lo­cated in a cap­i­tal bud­get, he said.

The county’s mid­dle schools have not had me­dia spe­cial­ists since 2012, Pilewski said. In­stead, each mid­dle school has a me­dia as­sis­tant/ para ed­u­ca­tor im­ple­ment­ing their li­brary me­dia ser­vices pro­grams.

“The cur­rent fo­cus on pre­serv­ing the Ele­men­tary School Me­dia Spe­cial­ists for FY 18 has caused us to fur­ther re­flect on staffing in­equity is­sues across the sys­tem,” said Pilewski said.

No men­tion was made of the other po­si­tions cut. The May 24 let­ter said the cen­tral of­fice per­son­nel af­fected would be of­fered school­based po­si­tions.

The lack of men­tion re­gard­ing the Fa­cil­i­ta­tor of Dig­i­tal Teach­ing and Learn­ing po­si­tion did not go un­no­ticed.

“We are plac­ing a lot of equip­ment into the school at a hefty cost,” said one par­ent, “but re­mov­ing the one trainer and over­seer that the county has (for tech­nol­ogy) is puz­zling. I’m con­cerned much of the equip­ment will be un­der­used,” he said.

Oth­ers want to know why, when they have called the Cen­tral Of­fice to re­quest in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing their con­cerns about which po­si­tions are be­ing cut or re­aligned, they have been told their re­quests for in­for­ma­tion must be sub­mit­ted in writ­ing.

Of the school sys­tem’s $90 mil­lion bud­get, $55 mil­lion is sup­plied by the county.

In their let­ter, com­mis­sion­ers out­lined re­cent county fund­ing for schools, “Al­though the school sys­tem added only one stu­dent this year, their bud­get was in­creased by $1.3 mil­lion over the year be­fore. That bud­get was in­creased $1.3 mil­lion over the prior year. Ad­di­tion­ally, in the last 6 years the County has av­er­aged $1.45 mil­lion above Main­te­nance of Ef­fort (the amount we are re­quired by the state to pay per pupil) in BOE fund­ing.”

The county’s fis­cal 2018 bud­get was ap­proved May 23 af­ter nu­mer­ous work­shops and hear­ings.

“Never once dur­ing th­ese bud­get hear­ings or any bud­get work­shops with the BOE did any warn­ing of re­mov­ing me­dia spe­cial­ists come up,” com­mis­sion­ers said.

They en­cour­aged those with con­cerns to ad­dress school board mem­bers and Pilewski.

Us­ing $264,413 for the me­dia spe­cial­ists’ salaries will leave the sys­tem with $212,920 in the sys­tem’s fund bal­ance, ac­cord­ing to Pilewski.

The school board is ex­pected to vote and ap­prove next year’s bud­get at the June 7 meet­ing.

GRE­GORY PILEWSKI

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