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Until last year, teachers and support staff went three years without receiving raises. A salary article in which all support staff employees are repositioned on a compressed salary scale at their next highest step was added last year in addition to receiving a 1 percent cost of living salary adjustment

“I know this is very difficult, especially when, you know, I would love to be able to give raises. I’m all for teachers. I was a teacher for 19 years. I get it,” Highsmith said addressing the crowd. “Unfortunately, it’s just, this year, it can’t happen.”

Highsmith presented a budget of $198,471,632 with 41 percent funded by the state, 58 percent funded by the county and 1 percent funded locally. The largest amount of the total budget, 42 percent, will be spent on instructional salaries with the second largest amount, 17 percent, spent on fixed charges, such as rising health-care costs, which are projected to increase 7 percent. Three state initiatives — Common Core State Standards, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), assessments and the new Teacher/Principal Evaluation Model — require instructional and professional development and adequate technology and some additional cost.

“My big concern is the health-care costs,” Highsmith said. “That has really grown, and I’m very concerned about that, and it’s a fixed cost, and we have to fund that.”

Another factor that affects funding is student enrollment, Highsmith said. Student enrollment has continued to decrease since 2006 from 17,015 students to 15,779 projected for FY ’15. As enrollment decreases, state funding decreases.

The budget process begins in September, Highsmith said, when she meets with different departments to inquire about their needs and puts together the budget appropriately. After the budget is presented, members of the board will accept public comment, make any adjustments necessary and present the final budget to the county commissioners for inclusion in their budget.

After presenting the budget, only one person offered public comment.

“You constantly speak of the wonderful things that Calvert County Public School teachers do for their students … I should not have to come here each and every year to fight for a decent and reasonable raise for our teachers’ continuing work,” Debbie Russ, president of the Calvert Education Association, said, driving home her main point. “No money should be spent on anything until teachers get a raise.”

“We hear what you’re saying, Debbie,” Eugene M. Karol, president of the board of education, said. “We’re continuing with the need for more funding, so I can’t disagree with what Ms. Russ just said … I think we need to get some raises here quickly … we need to indicate that we support our teachers and staff, and I think the board feels that way … that’s the only thing I apologize for that we don’t have. We haven’t put raises in the budget.”

“I would love to give teachers a raise. Unfortunately we don’t have the money, and we have to rely on the commissioners for that support,” Kelly D. McConkey, vice president of the board of education, said.

Many board members addressed Calvert County Commissioners’ President Pat Nutter (R), who was present at the meeting and will, with the other commissioners, incorporate the approved superintendent’s budget into the county’s overall FY ’15 budget.

“The budget has been scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed, and the commissioners have been back and forth for months,” board of education member Dawn C. Balinski said. “It is a big disappointment that no salary increases were able to be put in, but the amount of work the teachers are doing now, we understand, is incredible, and the wonderful thing about it is I feel like we’re all working as a team, and I hope that spirit of working as a team continues, even if we’re not able to fund salary increases this year.”

“I certainly have tremendous confidence in this budget. There’s not a penny being wasted,” board member Joseph R. Chenelly said. “The credibility of past budgets has not been all that great, but I assure you we are working to find everything we can.”

“We will have an opportunity as board members to influence what the budget looks like,” board member Tracey H. McGuire said, encouraging those in attendance to submit public comments regarding the proposed budget to the board. “Hopefully we can put together the kind of budget people want to see.”

Public comments regarding the proposed budget will be accepted and submitted to the board until March 20. Comments may be submitted via email to Karen Maxey at MaxeyK@calvertnet.k12.md.us or by mail to Karen Maxey, CCPS, 1305 Dares Beach Road, Prince Frederick, MD 20678.

snewman@somdnews.com