As the battle lines over its proposed $547 million budget continue to form, the county school board is looking for financial stability, but the Frederick County Board of Commissioners wants proof that the school system is making a real effort to trim costs.
The Frederick County Board of Education is looking for ways to get above the state-mandated minimum, known as maintenance of effort, that the five commissioners have said they’re willing to provide the school system.
Schools Superintendant Theresa Alban’s proposed budget is $24.25 million more than fiscal 2013, and $15 million over maintenance of effort.
For the fiscal 2014 budget, the county has offered $244.3 million, a $200,000 increase over the previous year, to account for 40 additional students. About 52 percent of the county’s budget goes to fund education.
Frederick County Public Schools are also scheduled to receive $264.2 million from the state and $17.7 million from the federal government.
But school board officials are also trying to set up a way to move beyond maintenance of effort in future years to provide the school system with some certainty of where their funding will be from year to year.
There’s no way the school system can operate on maintenance of effort forever, school board member Brad Young said at a meeting Tuesday between the board and commissioners at Winchester Hall in downtown Frederick.
It would be advantageous for both boards to have a longer-term outlook of where funding will be coming from and roughly how much it will be, Young said.
Young said he would like to see discussions on whether the school board’s budget could increase if the county’s overall budget increases in a given year.
His brother, commissioners’ President Blaine R. Young (R) said he has been willing in the past to support giving the school board taxing authority to set its own funding, but he didn’t get sufficient support from the board.
Giving the school board taxing authority would require permission from the General Assembly.
He also pointed out that the maintenance of effort number doesn’t take into consideration $10 million of in-kind services the county provides, such as sheriff’s deputies who serve as school resource officers at the county’s high schools.
Brad Young agreed that having taxing authority makes sense, but without it, the school board still needs to be able to plan from year to year.
He said planning is difficult when the school board doesn’t know how much it will be getting each year.
The back-and-forth between the county and school board each year doesn’t accomplish anything productive, said school board member April Miller, who wants to work toward finding a solution to the problem.
School board President Jean Smith said it is looking for a way to get more certainty in the budgeting process.
“It’s just that we need a way to have more than maintenance of effort,” she said.
Commissioner Billy Shreve (R), the commissioners’ liaison to the seven-member school board, said the county has made a concerted effort to save money by having private companies perform some services. He wants the school board to do the same.
For example, the board could save $500,000 if it contracts with a private company to mow the grass on its properties, and $250,000 by leasing extra space in its administrative building, Shreve said.
To get above maintenance of effort, the school board will have to show him what it is doing to bring down costs, he said.
If you do the math, $15 million is a small percentage of the proposed budget, he said.
“Until they do the things that are easy...why would you give them [more] money?” he asked.