Schools Oppose County Reduction Request

NEWARK – The Worcester County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday to oppose a request to the state by the County Commissioners to allocate less funding to the local school system.

“I thought that they might have a change of heart,” said County Commission President Louise Gulyas. “I thought they might see the economic strain on our county and support us, but that’s not going to happen.”

Worcester County is facing at least a $12.5 million shortfall in fiscal year 2010.

“Last Friday we were hit by the [Maryland] House [of Representatives]. They want $1.9 million of our income tax money. They’re doing that statewide,” said Gulyas.

The commissioners applied for a waiver of Maryland’s Maintenance of Effort (MOE) requirements this week, allowing them to reduce the county education allocation to 97 percent of last year’s school budget request, as mandated by the county in the fall. The county needs a waiver from the state board of education in order to fund the local schools at the lower level and retain all state funding. A less than MOE budget could reduce the state education contribution by hundreds of thousands.

The school board prefers the MOE budget it approved just this week, which reduces the allocation less.

“The only way we can get the budget we just approved is for them not to get a waiver,” said Hulburd. “We think the maintenance of effort budget is not where we want to be; we feel legally it’s where we have to be.”

Gulyas was disappointed at the school board’s opposition to the waiver. “It would have sent a message to the commissioners and taxpayers of our county,” Gulyas said.

According to school board attorney James Almand, the state requires a statement of support or opposition to the waiver request from the local board by April 10.

A public hearing will be held on the all waiver requests on April 27 in Baltimore. A decision will be made by May 15.

“The burden will be on the county to show by the preponderance of evidence they deserve a waiver,” said Almand.

The county could show evidence on tax revenue, rate of inflation and any loss of industry to prove that funding is not available for MOE levels.

Almand suggested notifying parents and teacher associations about the waiver to solicit their testimony in support of MOE level funding.

The letter of opposition should be sure to state the MOE budget still shows a $660,000 reduction in funding, including no cost-of-living raises and no step increases for employees, said board member Jonathan Cook.

The county has other options to deal with revenue decreases, Rothermel said.

Arbitrarily deciding to cut the schools budget by 3 percent does not make a lot of sense, according to Hulburd.

“Some [county] departments should be cut maybe more than 3 percent,” Hulburd said. “There’s some questionable thinking in just taking a knife and cutting 3 percent.”

If the Worcester County waiver request is approved, the county schools will be funded at the lower county-requested level.

Worcester funds three-quarters of the local school budget, more than any other county, because the state funding formula for local jurisdictions looks at tax income, which is high, and school enrollment, which is relatively low.

Few seem optimistic over the chance of success of MOE waiver requests, but Gulyas felt the number of waiver requests made could show the state that counties need the help.

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” she said.