NEWARK — Despite an increase in state aid, the Worcester County Board of Education has learned that it will have to phase out three additional positions in the school system beyond what was originally anticipated due to rising state costs.
“It is more and more challenging each and every year to make sure we maintain small class sizes,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes after learning of the necessity of additional cuts.
When the fiscal year 2012 budget was first drafted, the school board expected to have to reduce school system positions by 12. However, after finally learning the level of state funding as compared to costs, it was discovered that 15 positions will have to be cut in order to balance the budget. The board plans on phasing those jobs out through retirement and natural attrition, as opposed to actively terminating employees.
Despite not having to actually eliminate employees, there were still concerns over how the budget was treating current faculty and teachers, specifically the fact that this is the third consecutive year that the proposed operating budget doesn’t include salary increases.
“We can only do that for so long before we start cutting muscle,” said Board of Education member Jonathon Cook.
Board President Bob Hulburd informed Cook the realities of the budget were tough and that the county was “putting another notch in that belt.”
Hulburd did agree, though, that he did not like the direction things were headed in regards to budgeting.
“I share the fears that we’re going down a slippery slope,” he said.
Though state aid is increasing by $486,314 in fiscal year 2012, a new administrative fee of $162.77 per member of the state retirement and pension system will hit every county in Maryland. The total cost for Worcester in administrative fees will be $183,279. Additionally, the rate increase for health insurance, which was projected at 5 percent, ended up being almost double that, or 9.8 percent. Federal aid also dropped by $954,000, further stressing the budget, especially when the $1,382,000 estimated increase in fixed business costs is factored in.
While a $600,756 increase in county Maintenance of Effort funding helped soften the blow, several BoE members worried about just how far that would stretch.
“Maintenance of Effort is becoming not enough,” said Hulburd.
Cook agreed and expressed his fear that simply funding enough to maintain last year’s spending would become the standard.
“It is not maintaining, it is going backwards,” said Hulburd, who added that “just maintaining” should not be the goal and that efforts should not become static but should progress from year to year.
“How are we going to keep our school system great at a time when fiscal matters are so tough?” Andes asked of the board.
“The bottom line is that there has got to be some additional revenue, somehow,” said Hulburd.