New School Budget Nothing To Celebrate, Board Says

NEWARK – A Maintenance of Effort (MOE) budget for the Worcester County school system would mean no teacher layoffs, no furlough days and restored field trips, if county elected officials are unsuccessful in their bid to get those minimum funding requirements waived by the state.

The Worcester County school board approved a MOE level budget Tuesday morning in a special meeting. MOE is a Maryland state regulation mandating that local jurisdictions fund the same amount per student as the previous year. School systems in Maryland must present a MOE budget by law.

A 3-percent cut mandated by the County Commissioners for fiscal year 2010 budget requests had provoked warnings of dire consequences from school board members during a budget process beginning in January.

The MOE budget calls for less reduction in county-provided school funding, about $660,000, from $2.2 million in the 3-percent-cut budget. The MOE budget was calculated using the operating cost per student from the current school year multiplied by enrollment for next year.

“We’re still talking substantial reductions in a lot of different categories,” said school board financial officer Vince Tolbert.

“It’s the floor. It’s the minimum,” said Board President Bob Hulburd.

“We are not happy with this budget but it’s better than the other one,” said school board member Sara Thompson.

“This is not level funding,” said school board member Doug Dryden.

Under MOE funding, the school system cannot grow programs, start new initiative, or provide for non-discretionary costs like utilities, said Board Vice President Bob Rothermel.

The MOE budget, which adds about $1.8 million back in, would alleviate some of the fears surrounding the 3-percent budget cuts.

The money added back into the MOE budget request would prevent furloughs and restore 19 teacher positions. Ten positions would still be lost.

“We believe we can do that through retirement or attrition,” said Worcester County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jon Andes.

Board of Education staff would fill open positions by moving teachers from one school to another.

The school system is not asking for any additional positions, as it often has in recent budget years.

The MOE budget also includes $183,000 for advanced degree recognition. Teachers in Maryland must earn advanced degrees to retain their teaching licenses or lose their jobs.

“It becomes really unfair not to recognize them for the time and effort to get those degrees,” said Hulburd.

At the moment, the school system is predicting an additional $250,000 in state Thornton funding, although that could change in the next few weeks as the Maryland General Assembly finalizes the state budget.

While a long line of red numbers, showing reductions, still remains under instructional programs, the MOE budget adds back some money for textbooks, materials of instruction, health supplies and substitutes, as well as all of the bus contract reduction, and all of the field trip dollars. 

The MOE budget still includes reductions in staff, out-of-county tuition for special education students, office supplies, consultants, instructional and computer equipment, band and music equipment, library books, teacher rectruiting, in-service pay, supplies for student body activities and materials of instruction.

“People need to understand [the MOE budget] is not a bonus,” said board member Donnie Shockley.

“It’s less than what it has been in the past,” Hulburd said.

“It won’t return the same amount of money to the classroom,” Rothermel said.

The school board unanimously passed the MOE budget Tuesday morning and will be delivered to the commission next week.