School board slashes positions to fund pay raises for FY2018
CENTREVILLE — Queen Anne’s County Superintendent of Schools Greg Pilewski announced May 24 the school board’s collective bargaining negotiations with the local teachers union have left the system with a $1.5 million shortfall for the coming year.
“... we are devoted to our employees and recognize the need for salary adjustments at $1.97 million dollars. As collective bargaining nears the end of the negotiation process we stand firm on our commitment to our employees,” Pilewski wrote in a letter to parents, guardians and employees.
He continued, “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 schoolbased 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).
Affected employees at the central office will be reassigned to school-based positions and media specialists assigned to vacant teaching positions, Pilewski wrote.
The plan to replace elementary media specialists immediately drew public outcry, including a flurry of social media posts, a public rally in Centreville on Tuesday, May 30, and calls to the county commissioners seeking funding to save them.
The County Commissioners responded to public concern in a letter stating, “We share your concern over the Board of Education’s (BOE) budget and the elimination of the media specialist positions. Please be aware that the Commissioners do not approve, determine, or influence the allocations of the Board of Education. In this case, we were absolutely unaware that this decision had been made.”
Karen Fields, president of the Queen Anne’s County Education Association, wrote the commissioners, urging them to fully fund the QACPS budget request.
“While I applaud your funding to expand the public library,” said Fields, “I find it ironic you will not fund a QACPS budget that will support media specialists in our eight elementary schools.”
Fields continued, “Media specialists provide a unique learning experience for our youngest students as they begin their formal interaction with books and online learning that will set the stage for a lifetime of learning.”
The same letter from 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.
The commissioners wrote, “Even more surprising to us on Tuesday, May 23, the day before Mr. Pilewski’s letter was sent, he attended the Commissioners meeting with a request to transfer $599,000 of their $1.2 mil fund balance to cover capital costs including $30,000 for band uniforms .... If the BOE can save $1.2 mil from their yearly budget, they should most definitely be able to fund these positions from the money allocated to them.”
Although a matter of public information, the school board declined the newspaper’s request last week to identify the other positions cut. One, the newspaper learned, was the Facilitator of Digital Teaching and Learning that Pilewski touted in the meeting with the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce earlier this school year.
Of the school system’s $90 million budget, $55 million is supplied by the county.
The commissioners have encouraged those with concerns to address school board members and Pilewski.
Editor Angela Price also contributed to this report.