Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Board opposes waiver of Maintenance of Effort

The Board of Education opposes a request by the Charles County Commissioners to waive the state's Maintenance of Effort requirement.

Maintenance of Effort is the state law that requires local governments to maintain the same level of funding from year to year and provides increases based on the enrollment and per pupil cost from the previous fiscal year. It ensures minimum local government funding in public education. Charles County Public Schools receives a significant portion of its funding from county government. Since 1984 the law has ensured that counties meet a proportional funding obligation relative to state funding.

In a letter to Donald Wade, chairman of the Board of Education, the Commissioners wrote that they regret that they are planning to request a waiver of the Maintenance of Effort for the next school year. They are filing for the waiver, according to the letter, because the county may receive additional unspecified state funding cuts. Counties must file requests for a waiver of Maintenance of Effort to the Maryland State Department of Education by April 1.

"The Maintenance of Effort waiver would have a significant impact on the school system, students, programs and staff," Wade said. "It is not in the best interest of maintaining a quality education system. Our funding projections for next year are already significantly lower on both the county and state levels and the cuts jeopardize the progress we have made in recent years."

By requesting a waiver of Maintenance of Effort, the Commissioners are asking to reduce funding by approximately $4.5 million below this school year's original budget and cut $14 million from the Board of Education's proposed budget of $304 million. Requested budget increases include only mandatory costs for health insurance, transportation, employee longevity steps, maintenance service contracts and utilities. The school system has not entered into negotiations with its two employee group representatives because of the lack of firm revenue projections from both the county and the state.

Additionally, the school system anticipates state funding will be flat; however, no official funding notification has been provided. The school system initially expected a $1.8 million cut in state funding, but projections show that stimulus money may offset that loss.

"The current law requires that the county levy taxes sufficient to meet the statutory obligations of Maintenance of Effort. A simple desire on the part of the Commissioners to avoid appropriate actions to satisfy the law is not a reason to grant a waiver or to overturn the law," Wade said.

Counties must by law submit a formal request for waivers to the Maryland State Department of Education and must prove that the county's fiscal condition significantly impedes the county's ability to fund Maintenance of Effort. A public hearing on all waiver requests will be held 9 a.m., April 27, at the Maryland State Board of Education in Baltimore.

Wade said the local Board plans to oppose any effort by the county to waive Maintenance of Effort and will ask the local delegation to oppose a statewide waiver. "While some counties may not be able to meet the legal requirement of Maintenance of Effort, the Board of Education feels that Charles County can meet its obligation," Wade said.


Anonymous said...

It is really a shame that the BOE can't play nice. When the rest of county govt is tightening its belt and eliminating programs and services in order to maintain a balanced budget, the BOE approves COLAs and Merit increases for its employees. I have kids, too, and I believe that a quality education is a priority...but it is time for our educational "leaders" to stop acting like bratty kids. We should all be in this together, not fighting over the crumbs like wretched rats. Before the BOE plants its feet firmly in the ground on opposing this waiver, you need to ask yourselve, what else do you want to give up? The county can't absorb this $4.5mil unfunded mandate without cutting $4.5mil from someplace else. Remember that tough class in college when the prof said, "look to your left, look to your right...in 2 weeks half of your classmates will have dropped out." That is what it feels like to work for County gov't these days...except that we aren't dropping out, we'll be laid off and closing doors to our customers if this waiver isn't granted. While we are forced to decide which of our co-workers should be laid off because the BOE got their raise when everyone else is getting furloghed, I hope you can sleep well. This unfunded mandate creates an economic burden of $4.5 million even AFTER the county employees take their 78-hr furlough via the AWS. Do you have a better idea of where the $4.5mil is going to come from? Please tell me, because I'm trying to decide which programs to eliminate in my department. If you have a viable solution, fine... if not, don't be part of the problem. How well do you think the children in Charles County are going to do in the classrooms if their parents lose their jobs and homes? They can't come to school ready to learn if they are living in the woods behind Food Lion. Maybe you'd like to offer boarding schools so that the kids will have a place to live when they become homeless from parents losing thier jobs so that the County can continue to pay for more BOE wish list items? Exactly how many "take home cars" do the BOE employees still have after County employees were forced to give theirs back? How many conferences do your staff attend while the rest of us have had to eliminate training, travel & mileage? Get real...

Anonymous said...

You miss the point completely. Passing costs from one group to another is NOT solving a problem. These elected officials need to use their skills to come up with innovative solutions to fix a problem. The law has been on the books for a long time for a reasons and if you read it, it is pretty clear. Dumping the problem down to any agency or sub-level does not solve it.

Anonymous said...

You complaint is with the county commissioners, not the school board. They are the ones letting everyone down. The BOE is just doing what is required for them to do their jobs. You should email this complaint to your county commissioners. Ask them about all of the building being done in Charles Co. and were the tax dollars are for these new buildings. Ask them if all the tax breaks to encourage growth was a smart idea.

LegalBeaglette said...

Beg your pardon, Anonymous @ 5:31 -- “innovative solutions to fix a problem” ???

In its widely-distributed email before the BoE budget approval 2/10/09, the EACC opposed any BoE budget cuts relating to increments or COLA. In a nutshell:

1) The BoE should rely on the COUNTY to do any carving of the budget – it is not the BoE’s responsibility to cut its own budget. Besides, the Superintendent and the BoE have routinely included increments and COLA – why change now? [Answer: Because we’re in a worldwide financial meltdown.]

2) Hold tight -- the federal stimulus package may save us! [That “federal stimulus money” includes MY MONEY; it didn’t grow on a tree on the White House lawn.] And if it doesn’t, well, then the BoE doesn’t have to use the money for increments or COLA, and the EACC will re-negotiate its contract.

With the Waiver application, there is a deadline to be met (today) AND the county must prove its position before such a waiver would be granted. Budget funds are still in question, and the county is obligated to meet deadlines on such things as Maintenance of Effort waivers. Of the school budget, $4.1 million is for pay increases, and in addition to the BoE budget increase of $5.1 million.

Note, too, that the state budget is burdened by teacher pension costs, and the reality is that budget item is likely going to pass to county governments eventually. As of now it’s a $21.5 million state budget item to Charles County. [“Lawmakers want to resist shifting teacher pension costs,” Maryland Independent, 2/20/09]

We have an ever-growing education budget from CCPS, the possibility of an additional $21.5 million + burden (let’s not be short-sighted), the EACC doesn’t want to cut anything anywhere for employees (ever)… and the BoE Chair Wade claims the BoE believes Charles County can meet its financial obligations under Maintenance of Effort for the coming fiscal year while other agencies funded by the county budget are facing the heartache and challenge of serious program and personnel cuts. The location of Wade’s crystal ball?

And just who is missing the point, Anonymous @5:31? What do you mean by “innovative solutions?” Host car washes and bake sales? Find a bank that will issue a 0% interest loan to cover any shortfalls that might occur? Have a former Enron employee volunteer to enhance the budget figures so no one will have to bother with budget carving?

I will not argue that the commissioners are without blame. What I do think, though, is that the BoE must be realistic. It must play a legitimate and responsible role, and that starts with acknowledging that there is a financial crisis to begin with, and that there may be serious budget challenges for the county and the school system once financial figures are more established. REALITY CHECK: That money-growing tree that does not exist on the White House lawn does not exist in the La Plata County Government Building parking lot, either.

Anonymous said...

Funny that money tree is building a lot of government buildings and parking lots by the court house lately. Legal Beaglette, why so much anagst against the BOE and the EAC protecting its own. That is their job. Talk to the commisioners about their budget problems.

How do you know the money from dc is your money? Taxes come from all over. You sound like a bitter republican who is upset that your little joyous eight years of ripping off the American people is over. The President will do his job, the BOE will do theirs, just make sure the County Commissioners do their's.

Jennifer Abell said...

Anonymous 9:54,
The Board of Education returned $4.5 million to the county this year, and like other agencies "tightened its belt." There is a hiring freeze on most positions outside of the classroom and positions involving the day-to-day direct operation of the schools. Many people have picked up additional job responsibilities to fill in for the work done by people who left and created vacancies. We have cut back programs, including, but not limited to the length of free summer offerings that we provide to students and we increased the amount of our medication deductibles for all employees. Each and every purchase is scrutinized, and all departments cut 3 percent off their budgets prior to the start of this fiscal year in order to make up deficits in the existing year's budget. Travel, other than that provided and specified through restricted grant funding or for recruiting in high-need areas, has been curtailed. The Board of Education members who decided to go to their annual conference this year paid their own conference fees, hotel and flight costs.

There have been no negotiations by our employee groups for raises -- COLA or STEP -- or anything else at this time.

The $4.5 million the county wants to waive for next year would put us below this year's funding level and at a $9.5 million deficit as we expect no increase from the state. We already know we have at least $5 million in increases in mandatory costs alone -- utilities, health insurance, maintenance contracts and transportation costs. The BOE has a lot more belt tightening in its future even without a waiver and we still have all the same accountability measures to meet.

The Board of Education and school system administrators do recognize the strains of the economic times. We see it personally and in our classrooms. Through all the cuts and budget issues, the school system continues to do its part and gone through programs, departments and budgets to tighten in all areas. We have changed employee hours during school break times to conserve energy and funds and we continue each day to look at ways to conserve, save and cut without directly impacting the students and classroom. Our budget is approximately 85 percent people, most of whom live, work and pay taxes here too.

Your issue is with the Charles County Commissioners, not with the Board of Education.

Anonymous said...

Wah, wah, wah.For the BOE "maintenance of effort" is maintenance of pork! The BOE had this coming for a long time.I'm tired of hearing how much they "gave back." They never should have received it in the first place!They had fat in their budgets for years and now its time for them to pay the piper. I am so NOT feeling sorry for those that must eat hamburger (like the rest of us)after using my $$ to dine on filet for 15 years. The LENGTH of free summer offerings! How about getting rid of that nonsense all together and teach my kid what he needs to know Sep-June? And if my kid is a jerk and doesn't apply himself, then flunk his sorry behind! Just about every other employee on planet earth is taking hits to salaries and benefits. The EAC elitists somehow feel they are entitled to live far above the working Joes out there and demand increases all under the name of "protecting their own." What a crock. "Protecting" is one thing,enshrining is another. I'm now convinced the EAC is not about educating children, its about the politics of fattening their wallets while stepping on the necks of everyone else out there. Those people make me sick and I'm a union person myself. Get rid of the EACC (and your spendthrift superintendent) and you might have a shot at balancing the county's budget!We're all in this together, there are no sacred calves.

Anonymous said...

Original "anonymous" checking in here. Wow...guess I struck a chord, huh? Here's the thing, Jennifer, The County has already done all of the things that you described and more. In the words of Deborah Hudson, the low hanging fruit was picked a long time ago. Nice to hear that you have finally "curtailed" training and conferences... in the real world we completely eliminated them in my Dept about 6 months ago, in some cases even when the training or CEUs are "mandatory" for employees to maintain their licenses and credentials. Tough luck, if you want to retain your license, you pay for it yourself. CCPS increased employee share of health care costs this year...yah, the CCG employees have done that pretty much EVERY year for so long that I finally dropped my County health plan because it was costing me too much in co-pmts and deductibles. My husband's employer (who offers crappy benefits) actually had a more affordable family plan than the County for the first time ever. County employees don't even know yet what our health plan options will be for FY10, but HR has already warned us to expect changes that will take more $ out of our paychecks...at a time when we're taking a 78-hr furlough (which, by the way hasn't been approved yet and if it doesn't there will be layoffs rather than furloughs). Frozen positions...yep, we've already been doing that for most of this year as well. There are 5 in my Dept and we are a very small operation compared to the rest of CCG. Most of the folks in my area have been working about 7 extra hrs per week without any compensation to absorb these vacancies. That means no overtime, not compensatory time, and no straight hr-for-hr pay for those extra hrs that they're putting in to assure that customers will not be affected by the frozen positions that have been vacant for at almost a year already. The 3% across the board budget cut... yep, we all took that too, there were no sheep spared in that slaughter. As for the "capital projects" and poor judgement by the Commissioners. Well, I admit that the "fab 5" have indeed made some extremely poor decisions in the past. But we can't un-do the past mistakes. Buying SUVs at the peak of an energy crisis was both stupid and gluttonous on many levels... but what would we have them do now? Return the SUVs at their depreciated value...please, they'd be better off to give them away to charity at this point. But as far as the capital projects, I must disagree with you. The construction that you see in-process now are projects that were budgeted and already started before the economic downturn. Would you rather these bldgs be left half-completed at this point? What good would a "stop work" order do at this point, other than to create higher unemployment for the persons who are grateful to have those construction & engineering jobs? They certainly aren't able to pick up work in the residential construction area at this time. Although I don't work in the County budget office, I have been told by persons in that office that all of the future capital projects that could be stopped or delayed for Fy10 have been. The only ones that haven't been halted are ones in which the County could be sued for violating its contract, or ones for which outside grants have been secured. For example, there is one project that was approved and grant funded several years ago, but isn't scheduled to actually begin construction until FY10. If the grant funds aren't used this year, the project will be terminated and the grant funds will have to be returned, which would be a shame.
I think there are always 2 sides to every story, but I do think we need to be all in this together and there is never anywhere near as much "give" from my perspective on behalf of the CCPS/BOE. I am 100% in favor of utilizing the maximum resources in our classrooms. CCPS are extremely poor performers compared to the school district that moved from (I had no choice moving to Chas Co, and I do consider it home, but it makes me sick to compare the stellar education my kids could be getting in our former hometown compared to Chas Co)... the "pork fat" in Chas Co is at the Starkey Bldg. My former superb school district was more than the size of CCPS, performed better and had HALF the number of area superintendents, all with lower salaries than the lowest paid area supt here... and our Superintendent, who oversaw signifantly more schools than we have in Chas Co, gets paid significantly less than Mr. Richmond (like $185,000). Follow the pork to the Starkey bldg.

Anonymous said...

Question: The previous $4+ million cut that was referred to on this post... Was that the CCPS/BOE's share of the 3% cut that all county-funded agencies had to take? If not, what was the source of that previous cut? Just trying to commpare apples to apples here, cause I wasn't aware of a $4+million cut in Fy09, but I do know that EVERY county funded agency had to share in that 3% cut.