Frederick County Public School employees, who were hoping to receive a pay raise included under Superintendent Terry Alban’s proposed budget, instead could receive furlough days.
On Feb. 22 the school board passed a $515.1-million budget that’s balanced, but austere.
Students will not see increases in their classroom sizes — proposed in an earlier version of the budget — but they will use the same textbooks they used last year. The budget calls for delaying the purchase of new textbooks for a year, a move that will save $1.9 million.
Workers will receive unpaid days of leave. The details on the furloughs have not been worked out, and would likely have to be negotiated with the teachers’ union. The Frederick County Teachers Association represents about 3,000 teachers in contract negotiations.
Alban had asked for about $10.8 million for the employee salary resource pool. This budget includes $5.1 million for the pool, and an adjustment to the employees’ work year. Furlough days are expected to save the school system $1.5 million.
Gary Brennan, president of the Frederick County Teachers’ Association, appealed to the board to advocate to the commissioners for more funding before the vote was cast.
“The school system is not a drain on this county,” he said. “Sometimes, you have to put money into an asset.”
He said that the furloughs would likely take place on teacher work days when students are not at school, but those matters would be negotiated. The state mandates that children are in school 180 days a year, so that would not change.
By law, the Frederick County Public School Board has to present a balanced budget to the county commissioners by March 1.
The budget also calls for eliminating funding for school media assistants. That will save the system just over $1 million through the elimination of about 40 positions. The media assistants are represented by the Frederick Association of School Support Employees.
Also removed from the budget passed Wednesday night was the request to the county for an additional $3.2 million in funding.
School Board President Angie Fish was the only member of the board to vote against the budget, saying it was not in the best interest of the students.
“We are not going to retain our quality staff,” she said. “I cannot personally approve this.”
Teachers have not had a raise since 2009, according to the Frederick County Teachers’ Association. The $40,706 starting salary for new teachers at Frederick County Public Schools is also among the lowest in the state, according to union officials.
Several other board members who voted for the budget also said they were doing so despite concerns about the cuts.
“This couldn’t have been a more difficult budget,” said board member Donna Crook. “The things that are in this budget… directly impact students in our classes.”
The vote on the budget was the last item acted upon during the three-hour meeting. Several people who had come the public meeting to share their concerns regarding teachers’ salaries and classroom sizes left by the time the vote was cast.
Board members intend to send a letter to county commissioners along with the budget that includes their concerns and an appeal for more money.
County Commissioner Billy Shreve (R) a liaison on the school board, was not at the meeting last week.
The Board of County Commissioners has indicated that it plans to fund the school system at the maintenance of effort level. Last year, that was $220.4 million.
Frederick County is projecting a budget surplus. Fitch Ratings, which recently gave the county’s general obligation bonds “AAA” rating — considered the gold standard — reported that the county had a $36.3 million operating surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30.
The school system receives 47 percent of its annual funding from the state, 45 percent from the county and the remaining eight percent from the federal government and out-of-district tuition, user fees and interest income.
The budget passed Feb. 22 is not final.
The board still does not know how much money it will receive from the state. The board does not know, for example, how much the school system will have to pick up in pension costs. The state is considering a measure that would have local governments shoulder more of that burden.
Some parents will likely be relieved that, despite the budget cuts, class-size increases are off the table at the moment. Nicole Orr and her son, Ryan Orr, a third-grader at Lewistown Elementary School, spoke to the board earlier in the evening about the importance of smaller classroom sizes.
Ryan Orr’s third-grade class has 16 students in it. It’s small enough that the teacher knows him well and the 8-year-old is obligated to participate in class. The classroom, his mother said, is like a community. She likes that, and so does her son.
“He has gotten so much attention and they know his needs,” Nicole Orr said. “Sixteen kids should be the normal in a class. It shouldn’t be a luxury.”