Commissioners message: Investing in education not part of being “business friendly”

Our county commissioners claim to be all about job creation and bragging that Frederick County is “open for business”. They boastfully present themselves as improving the economic standing of our county as “business friendly” policies attract new employers.

Well, the FY15 County Operating Budget is being finalized, and once again the commissioners actions don’t measure up to their rhetoric.

Operating a business, or a county government, is not just about allowing unpaid for growth, cutting costs, and eliminating services; it is also about making wise investments that have a proven return. It is about rewarding excellence and thinking into the future. On these measures the proposed county budget is a dismal failure.

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Once again the majority of the commissioners plan to short change public schools by continuing their “us versus them” budget battle with the Board of Education.

This short sighted approach harms our schools and undermines one of the most important and respected institutions in the county. Sadly it seems no change in the economic fortunes of the county, no demonstration of need by the school system, and no plea to budgeting fairness can change the commissioners’ minds. In fact, it seems the majority made up their minds on 2015 BOE funding way back in 2010.

Year after year the commissioners contribute the lowest level of funding for education allowed by the state. In fact, as soon as the ink was dry on the 2014 operating budget, Commissioner President Blaine Young declared that the Board of Education would receive a sixth year of maintenance of effort funding (MOE) in FY15.

FCPSstudentsMOE was designed so that in tough times counties would be required to at least maintain the same per pupil allocation for funding schools as the year before. The goal was to keep students from suffering because they happened to be in school during an economic downturn. The law was meant to serve as the floor of local funding for schools, with the idea that as an economy improved county funding for schools would rise again.

MOE does not include any required adjustment for inflation; recognize increased labor costs, help with new mandates placed on schools or finance a single strategic improvement in educating our youth. The MOE concept is a good one when used correctly, but when MOE is used inappropriately over time, it actually cuts funding to education in real dollars. Abuse of the MOE requirement does not just force the school system to tread water, but over time, leads to serious cuts. MOE funding also imposes stagnating teacher and staff wages, and as other school systems increase their investments, an inability to recruit and retain the best educators.

Under the county’s budget proposal, students in our schools in 2014-15 will receive the same per pupil allocation as was received in 2008-2009. In other words a child entering kindergarten in September 2009 will receive the exact same amount of funding as she enters sixth grade. This unchanging amount of money has to cover inflation, upgrades and innovations in technology, adapting to changing state and federal requirements such as Common Core, replacing old and out of date books and materials and any costs to meeting salary commitments to employees such as cost of living adjustments or contractual step increases.

The Board of Education has struggled mightily over the last 5 years to prevent MOE funding from cutting into the classroom. Employee salary increases were deferred and delayed, employee contributions to insurance were increased, central office positions were cut, some teachers saw their work year downgraded from eleven or twelve month to ten or eleven months. Technology upgrades were put on hold, computers got older and more out of date, supply budgets were cut and teachers spent more of their own money for school supplies such as paper and Kleenex.

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Meanwhile county income and property tax revenues and the overall budget have been increased each year during this board’s term. In fact, the county budgets last year, and again with the draft budget years, have set record as the all-time largest budgets in county history.

 County employees receive step increases and cost of living adjustments for the third year in a row (2% in this year’s budget). Taxes have gone up for many county residents and the Commissioners continue to increase overall spending. How can this be justified?

Blaine Young states he will never go above maintenance of effort for the school system because it creates an increased obligation in ongoing expenditures. He has stated that if he becomes our first County Executive parents, students and educators can expect more of the same. With Blaine in charge funding for schools will be at the same exact place in FY19 as they were in FY09.

According to Blaine’s logic, increases to ongoing expenses like county salaries is somehow fiscally responsible, but providing money so the BOE can also keep up with inflation and salary needs is the height of irresponsibility.

When it comes to education funding by the majority of the current commissioners, the slogan should not be “open for business”, it should be “open for political games and hypocrisy”.

garybrennanspeakingThe Board of County Commissioners will be holding a public hearing on their budget Tuesday, May 6, 6:00 p.m. at Oakdale High School. Those in the community who care about wise investments with a proven return, fairness in budgeting and keeping our school system great should mark their calendars and make their voice heard.


More information

Frederick County Teachers Association website

Frederick County Teachers Association on Facebook

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Frederick County Public Schools website

FCPS FY 2015 Budget Information

BOE Requested Fiscal 2015 Operating Budget
FCPS superintendent Dr. Terry Alban’s Fiscal 2015 recommended operating budget
FCPS superintendent Dr. Terry Alban’s Fiscal 2015 recommended operating budget highlights

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Frederick County government
News Release (pdf file)
County Commissioners Move Forward with FY2015 Recommended Operating Budget
April 3, 2014

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