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St. Mary’s public school officials now say they cannot completely cover a $7 million deficit this year caused by shortfalls in budgeting health care costs, along with expenses from a rough winter and special education costs, and will have to rely on county government to bail them out.

They are now asking for at least $782,000 from the county to help cover the deficit.

“We cannot cover everything in house,” Tammy McCourt, assistant superintendent of fiscal services and human resources, said.

The school board and superintendent last month submitted to the county commissioners three options — one of which would have had the school board entirely cover the shortfall by shifting funding from other places in the school budget. Two other options called for extra funding from the county of between $1.8 million and $3.8 million.

Due to inadequate budgeting for anticipated health care costs, the school board and Superintendent Michael Martirano announced earlier this spring that those costs would overrun the budget by about $6 millwion by the time the fiscal year ends June 30.

McCourt joined the school system earlier this year and was expected to work in tandem with Greg Nourse, who at the time was the schools’ chief finance officer. Nourse was set to retire at the end of June, and be replaced by McCourt, but Nourse abruptly left last month after the deficit came to light.

McCourt said at a Wednesday school board meeting that through the use of fund balance, money from a health care reserve fund and approximately $2.8 million of savings realized this year through hiring freezes and other measures, the school system could cover the $6 million health care shortfall.

However, another shortfall of about $1 million to pay for contracted special education therapists as well with electricity, heating and snow removal costs associated with this year’s harsh winter also needs to be covered.

McCourt said Wednesday the school system can use the remaining $273,000 of its fund balance, but would need the $782,000 from the county commissioners to address the deficit.

“Somebody’s got to handle it. It can’t be us,” board member Marilyn Crosby said of the $782,000.

Board members have said they were briefed on the budget problems in this year’s budget during a closed meeting in late March. Martirano has said he knew in late February of the impending deficit. The problem was not made public until the school board’s April 9 meeting.

Martirano has intimated that finance staff had not notified him soon enough about the shortfall. He said he could have put in cost-savings measures sooner had he known in December.

Monthly finance reports in February and March showed health care costs tracking high, but they were not marked as urgent.

Board member Cathy Allen lamented Wednesday learning about the health care shortfall so late in the year, and noted adjustments to other areas in the budget could have been made sooner to save more money.

jyeatman@somdnews.com