Frederick schools superintendent to take budget fight to the public -- Gazette.Net


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In an effort to save her proposed $548.4 million budget from cuts by the county commissioners, Frederick County Public Schools Superintendant Theresa Alban is taking her case to the public.

Alban and school system officials will hold a series of open houses to get feedback from parents, residents and other community members on the budget Alban has proposed and the Frederick County Board of Education voted to send to the commissioners.

Alban and her staff have preliminary plans for about two dozen events, similar to the “aggressive outreach” that was conducted when Alban was developing her budget before proposing it in January, county schools spokesman Michael Doerrer said.

Details such as times or dates for when some venues are available were still being developed, Doerrer said.

At a school board meeting Wednesday evening, Alban said that it was critical to keep the community engaged in the discussion, as well as getting feedback from business leaders and representatives from higher education.

She has said she hopes the public will rally around the proposed budget and tell the five-member Frederick County Board of Commissioners how important it is for the county to continue to invest in education.

Her proposal — which was unveiled at a January rally featuring cheerleaders a drum line and a jazz ensemble — represents a $25.3 million increase in spending over fiscal 2013. It is $15 million over maintenance of effort, the state law that requires counties to proved as much school funding as they did the year before.

The commissioners have told the school board that the county will provide maintenance-of-effort funding of $244.3 million. The rest of the school budget comes from the state and federal governments.

Commissioner Kirby Delauter (R) said at a commissioners’ meeting Thursday that providing another $15 million to the school board was “not going to happen.”

Alban and school board members have said the proposed budget is essential for keeping the school system from falling from its spot as one of the best in the state.

The board has unveiled a list of dire cuts that could be necessary if the commissioners don’t provide more funding, including eliminating athletics, cutting summer school programs or eliminating stipends for department chairmen and other staff leadership positions.

One area for possible cuts is the school system’s contribution to the trust fund known as Other Post Employment Benefits, which funds health benefits for future retirees.

The system has $14.3 million budgeted for the OPEB fund in the current fiscal year, the highest of the five counties that make contributions from their school budgets, according to a report prepared by the Frederick County school staff.

The school system is not required to provide a certain amount of funding for OPEB every year.

At the end of fiscal 2013, the county school system will have more than $57 million in the OPEB fund, and the retiree health claims of $5.9 million are being paid from the operating fund, the report said.

The trust fund money isn’t expected to be needed for many years, but some school board members voiced concerns about decreasing the amount of money put into the fund.

School board Vice President Joy Schaefer asked if an amount could be determined that needs to be put into the OPEB fund, with the remainder being put toward the current budget problems.

Schaefer emphasized that she wasn’t talking about taking money out of the fund, merely reducing the amount put into it.

Board member Zakir Bengali said he was reluctant to establish a precedent of not investing money in the fund.

It’s a matter of balancing short-term and long-term needs, said board member Katie Groth, who noted that she thinks there is room to adjust how much is funneled into the fund.

Board President Jean Smith agreed that they need to put some money into the fund, but not the full amount.

Board members Brad Young, James Reeder Jr. and April Miller were absent from the meeting.

Board members said they would like to see some headway made on the issue by their March 27 meeting, but Alban said she didn’t want to put a deadline on the board.

The county commissioners are scheduled to hold a public hearing on their appropriation to the school board on May 7, with the school board scheduled to adopt a final budget on June 12.

Alban said that administrators have been told to prepare for sudden changes in the budget.

“We will be poised and ready to do what needs to be done at the time the board is ready to make that decision,” she said.

rmarshall@gazette.net