Media specialists back in school budget
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.