State Rejects Plea To Exclude Costs

SNOW HILL – The Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) will not disallow certain costs from being factored into the Maintenance of Effort school funding figure.

Worcester County had asked earlier this spring to have some capital costs, which staff and officials believe were improperly reported as operating costs, removed from the Maintenance of Effort figure, which governs how much money the county must allot to the schools each year to retain state funding.

Repairs to sidewalks, curbs and parking lots, carpet and tile replacement and maintenance of playgrounds count as continuing maintenance, MSDE concluded, and those costs will remain in the maintenance of effort amount.

“You can tell they spent a lot of time reviewing it because this is a form letter with Montgomery County’s name on it,” said county Administrator Gerry Mason.

“I’m very unimpressed with the attention to detail,” Commissioner Judy Boggs said.

No decision has yet been made on Worcester County’s request to be excused from meeting the Maintenance of Effort schools funding level required by the state of Maryland.

The waiver application was an intense effort requiring 100 hours of work, Commissioner Virgil Shockley said, all to preserve state funding of just $251,000.

The school board’s previous budget representing the 3-percent spending cut requested by the County Commissioners would save the county another $1.8 million.

A waiver of Maintenance of Effort would give the county greater flexibility in creating a budget suffering from a drastic reduction in revenue.

“It isn’t personal, it’s business,” County Commissioners President Louise Gulyas said.

The county needs breathing room, she said.

The Worcester County Board of Education is at odds with the County Commissioners over Maintenance of Effort funding. The school board is on record as opposing a waiver.

A response by the County Commissioners to the school board’s opposition was sent to MSDE last week, reiterating the financial straits the county is in, and pointing out that the Board of Education’s Maintenance of Effort level has increased 40 percent since fiscal year 2005. The number of teachers also went up, as school enrollment went down, the commissioners have pointed out.

Worcester County, at $12,966 per student, is second in Maryland only to Montgomery County in spending per pupil at $13,536.