School board shares funding concerns with Md. lawmakers

November 01, 2011|By ANDREW SCHOTZ |
  • Del. Andrew Serafini, center, and Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Clayton M. Wilcox, right, listen as Sen. George Edwards makes a point during a joint meeting of local elected state officials and school system elected officials and staff.
By Kevin G. Gilbert, Staff Photographer

Local school officials hope state education funding won't be taken away, unfunded mandates can be prevented and money can be spread around more fairly.

Those sentiments were part of the message the Washington County Board of Education and school system officials presented Tuesday to state legislators who represent them in Annapolis.

The school board last month discussed and refined its state legislative agenda for the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session, which starts in January.

School officials presented those goals to the Washington County delegation, including:

  • Sustain the current level of education funding for students and re-examine the definition of "adequate" funding.
  • Restore an inflation factor in 2013, acknowledging growing costs.
  • Fully fund legislative mandates, including those related to gathering data, training and instruction.
  • Adequately fund school construction and repairs.
  • Continue to have the Interagency Committee on School Construction decide on and distribute state money for local school construction projects.
  • Pass legislation to clarify the "maintenance of effort" provisions in which local governments must provide adequate funding for schools. The law should call for accountability, flexibility, fairness, predictability and transparency.
  • Refrain from cutting state funding or shifting funding responsibilities to local governments, particularly to pay for teachers pensions.

The possibility of shifting the cost of teachers pensions from the state to the counties is looming as one of the biggest financial issues for public school systems. The state has been struggling to fix its underfunded pension system.

"The president of the Senate is pretty adamant that he wants something done," Sen. George C. Edward, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said at Tuesday's meeting, referring to Sen. Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., D-Calvert/Prince George's.

Legislators talked about a proposal that could be a middle ground for the state and local governments — having the state pay pension costs for salaries up to a certain salary level. Local governments with higher teacher salaries would pay for higher pension costs.

School officials and lawmakers also discussed the possibility of facing mandated pre-kindergarten programs as a condition for getting federal money and how much of a burden that might be.

Sen. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said new instructional mandates, such as an environmental curriculum, create more work and prevent teachers from going over the basics.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers Jr., R-Washington/Allegany, said some lawmakers are less concerned about the costs of new requirements than having their name on a piece of legislation.

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