Calvert Seeks Waiver from Md. to Trim School Funding
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Anticipating significant cuts in state funding, Calvert County commissioners joined their counterparts in Charles County last week by seeking a waiver from the State Department of Education that would allow them to give less money to the school system than they did last year.
Calvert and Charles were among eight counties that applied for the "maintenance of effort" waiver. In both counties, the request has produced tension between school officials and commissioners.
"Because of the uncertainty in terms of cuts coming from the state, we feel we have to apply for this waiver," said Wilson H. Parran (D-Huntingtown), president of the Calvert board. "Will we actually use this waiver? We don't know. However, we continue to prioritize education and fund education. If cuts are really that severe, we may have to, but we are hoping the cuts from the state won't be that severe."
The "maintenance of effort" mandates that local governments provide at least the same level of funding to their school systems as in the previous year, while adjusting that amount based on the number of enrolled students. At a minimum, the law requires a county's contribution to equal that of the state government.
In response to the Charles commissioners' decision to seek a waiver, the county school board urged commissioners last week to raise taxes instead of cutting school funding.
"A simple desire on the part of the commissioners to avoid appropriate actions to satisfy the law is not a reason to grant a waiver or to overturn the law," said Donald M. Wade, chairman of the Charles Board of Education.
But as the dispute escalated, several commissioners said that the school board was not being a "team player" in dealing with the recession, which has strained the county's budget.
"In these circumstances, which we didn't create, we need cooperation across the agencies that we fund, and we didn't see that cooperation forthcoming in the statements made by the board of education," said Charles Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D-St. Charles). "Their almost cavalier suggestion that we should just raise taxes indicates a total lack of understanding of the circumstances that we face in these dire times."
Wayne Cooper (D-At Large), president of the Charles board, said last week that commissioners never seriously considered raising taxes in light of the county's rising unemployment rate and the number of foreclosures.
"If we can't make small cuts across the board, everything is going to be seriously affected," Cooper said. "That will mean we'll cut services, cut parks and rec, put off patching roads, cut public safety, everything. This needs to be a team effort."
Local schools are expected to receive more money next year through the federal stimulus package, but the amount of state funding is still uncertain.
The Maryland House of Delegates has passed a budget that would cut about $298 million from the state's counties, including $60 million of local income tax money that would typically be sent directly to the counties, said Parran, who is also president of the Maryland Association of Counties. The Senate has passed a budget that would cut more than $365 million from county budgets.