School board passes $91.6 million budget
CENTREVILLE — The Queen Anne’s County Board of Education approved the fiscal 2018 budget for public schools at the June 7 meeting. With President Bishop Arlene Taylor absent, the vote was three to one in favor of the budget. At $91,631,258, this was the third lowest original budget request in the past 15 years presented to the Queen Anne’s County Commissioners, according to the report given by Interim Superintendent Gregory Pilewski.
All counties in the Maryland are required to provide as much funding as they did the year prior on a per pupil basis, known as maintenance of effort. The county commissioners approved a budget for the school system of $88,305,695, which included a maintenance of effort at $1,307,968, but no additional funding.
This was the first year since 2012, the county did not award to QACPS any funding over maintenance of effort.
The county is also required to meet the average state education effort, or it is required to pay additional MOE in the following year. In fiscal year 2017, Queen Anne’s County along with 11 others failed to meet the education effort criteria, resulting in a higher maintenance of effort calculation for fiscal year 2018.
The county’s education effort had to be equal to or greater than the five-year moving average for Statewide Education Effort. The education effort is calculated by dividing the county appropriation to the school board by the county’s wealth. If this amount is less than the five-year moving average, an additional amount of maintenance of effort is imposed at the lesser of either the county’s increase
in local wealth per pupil, or the statewide average increase in local wealth per pupil, or the rate of 2.5 percent.
Pilewski said, “It has been a challenge to balance our FY 18 budget, but we were able to implement some creative solutions to make our finances work for this year. We are proud to have submitted the third lowest budget in the last 15 years. However, the reality is that the decisions we were forced to make this year will continue to play out in future years. We remain committed to a fiscally conser vative approach while balancing the essential needs of our school system as we work towards our long term goals in partnership with our County Commissioners.”
Highlights from next year’s budget include:
• The elementary school media specialists were preserved by drawing from the fund balance, effectively using one-time money to preserve these positions.
• Salary improvements for the 2017-2018 are $1,970,000 million.
These were funded in part by projected attrition, position cuts and current year attrition/position changes.
• $428,750 in contractual obligations including: legal fees, bus contracts and maintenance contracts.
• The unrestricted budget has an increase of $1,913,093, which includes salary increases, contracted services, supplies, other charges (including heath insurance), equipment and transfers.
• The construction fund, which includes technology and an addition to Grasonville Elementary School, is $8,881,993, which combines both state and county funding.
• The total restricted fund is budgeted to be $6,561,317, which includes federal grants, state grants and other grants.
Using funds from the prior year fund balance only meets that particular need for one year, Pilewski stressed. The fund balance is typically funds remaining from lower than estimated heating costs and has historically been set aside for emergency mid-year maintenance
issues, he said. Another funding source will need to be found to continue to support the media specialists positions after this year.
Keeping salary improvements of $1.97 million — a priority for the board this year — was a key consideration in the FY18 budget, said Pilewski.
Ultimately, the board ended up using end of the year money to fund things that should be provided for in the budget, in order to balance the budget and make provisions for positions that were necessary for inclusion for the upcoming school year, he said.
When the vote was called to approve the FY18 budget as presented, Capt. Beverly Kelly was the only vote against.
Following the vote, Kelly spoke in favor of keeping the public informed — well in advance — of budget concerns. She said she considered it prudent to begin working earlier on bus contracts, saying that in her opinion they had been shafted having to pay so much at the last minute to lock in bus contracts for the past school
year. Those contracts are for three years.
Additionally, said Kelly, stakeholders should realize that if the county doesn’t fund salary increases going forward, staff cuts will have to happen. Things that the board believes are important to parents and guardians are class sizes and adequate employee compensation. We want to engage the community and get their feedback [on upcoming budgets], she said.
Board member Sharon Harlow voiced her support for Kelly’s concerns and agreed that the public should be involved earlier and more openly in the budget process.
The fiscal 2019 budget is already in the forefront of our minds as we continue to forecast our five-year budget plan, Pilewski said, adding that public input and opinion is a vital part of the budget process.
As the 2017-2018 school year begins, he said the board hopes the public will take into considerations the parent surveys, public budget work sessions, and budget hearings that start to occur in the fall.