Citing gap, O'Malley urges Md. superintendents to cut costs

By Nelson Hernandez and John Wagner
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

With Maryland facing a $2 billion budget shortfall next year, Gov. Martin O'Malley warned the chiefs of the state's school systems Tuesday of hard times ahead, and the Senate president told them that they were "going to have to start taking a portion of the hit."

Speaking in Annapolis to a gathering of the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland, O'Malley (D) urged the heads of the county's 24 school jurisdictions to find ways to save money but maintain the quality that earned the state a No. 1 ranking in a national survey by the Education Week trade newspaper.

O'Malley's cost-saving suggestions included creating a school building design that could be used across the state, buying furniture from the state prison industry and installing solar panels on roofs to generate energy.

But he offered few specifics about what cuts the superintendents might expect in state funding even as he repeatedly stressed the challenge of chopping $2 billion from a $13 billion budget.

"There's nothing that focuses the mind like our own execution, is there?" O'Malley said.

Speaking after O'Malley, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) said the state's funding for education is "not sustainable" and spoke of his well-known desire to shift the burden of teacher pension costs from the state to the counties. Talking to reporters afterward, he said a complete shift of the responsibility is not likely.

With the help of federal stimulus money, the state's schools have fared far better during tight budget times than other state-funded entities. As O'Malley put it: "Public education, K to 12, is the only member of the herd that hasn't taken a trip to the slaughterhouse."

O'Malley's proposal for fiscal 2011 is due to the legislature in January, and he is crafting another round of mid-year budget cuts in the meantime. O'Malley said he is hopeful that Congress will extend federal stimulus funding -- particularly a more generous match for state Medicaid programs -- which could provide relief to states in coming years.

"I'm hoping that the recession has run out by the time the stimulus runs out," O'Malley said.

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