State Says County Broke Law With 2011-12 Schools Budget
Of the six times that County Executive John Leopold has submitted a budget proposal,
three times he has failed to give the school system the amount of money necessary to meet the state required Maintenance of Effort (MOE). The first time this happened, in 2010-11, he asked the state to waive the MOE, but later withdrew his request and found the money.
The MOE simply requires that schools spend the same amount, per pupil, as they did last year. With fewer students, that number may be reduced, or with more students it may grow. But generally speaking, it allows for school systems to be able to forecast spending beyond the fiscal year (FY).
In 2011-12, Leopold worked his way around the MOE by moving debt service on construction bonds inline with school expenses, essentially reducing the amount of money allocated to the day-to-day things that the schools spend money on. The MOE was unmet by $12 million.
Today the Maryland State Board of Education found that the debt service allocation of funds meant that the county did not meet the standard for the Maintenance of Effort by $11,963,288. The ruling meant that Leopolds FY 2012-13 budget submitted last week would also not pass the test.
Roughly 80 percent of Anne Arundel County Public School’s budget is spent on personnel. In fact, the school system is the county’s largest employer. A loss of $12 million from one year to the next means that the funding ax fell primarily on teachers. In some cases, teachers weren’t hired, or teachers that retired or left didn’t get replaced.
Personnel numbers have a direct impact on class size. Fewer teachers, combined with an influx of students, has meant that class sizes have grown across all grades and all schools.
For FY 2012-13, the budget that Leopold submitted to the County Council earlier this month again did not met the MOE requirement.
Leopold spokesman Dave Abrams told the Source by email that John Hammond will be addressing the County Council when he provides a budget overview for the County Executive on May 1.
At a press conference on Wednesday afternoon, Superintendent of Schools Dr. Kevin Maxwell said that there are a couple of things now going in the school systems’ favor. First is that the penalty for not making MOE was changed in the General Assembly. Previously, in jurisdictions where school budgets didn’t make the requirement, the school system was penalized. In those circumstances the state withheld Maryland state education dollars.
This was a kind of “double whammy” where the schools would have to figure out how to operate without the county MOE, and also figure in a loss for state funds.
But this year, the General Assembly passed a new law that would no longer penalize school systems for what is essentially a problem with county budget makers. Instead, the funding source would take the hit. So if a County Executive withholds school funds, the County Executive takes the penalty.
That change seems like a better incentive for meeting MOE.
The County Council will have to fund county schools at the FY2010-11 dollar amount or above. Unfortunately, the council can only work with the total dollar amount allocated by the County Executive in the budget he submitted earlier this month.
Finding the additional funds will have to come from some other place in the budget.
There is a possibility that Leopold could introduce a supplemental budget. We will have to wait until May to see what happens.
Maxwell said during his meeting with the press that the school system has a collaborative relationship with the other departments in county government, including fire, police, health, library and social services.
But, he said the relationship with the County Executive John Leopold isn’t great. Maxwell said that the County Executive doesn’t work with others in a collaborative fashion.
“It would be nice to have a collaborative process. We want to drive things forward,” Maxwell said.
Maxwell added that in work sessions and direct conversations with the County Council, things are good.
“The working relationship is there,” he said.
The General Assembly not only gave schools some firmer ground. They also gave counties backing, allowing jurisdictions to not meet the MOE in nine defined scenarios.
And although the school system lost out on the $12 million for FY 2011-12, the General Assembly waived the penalty, so Anne Arundel County Public Schools weren’t hit by the loss of state funding.
No matter, Maxwell isn’t looking to get that money back into the budget with such a short time left in the school year. Now the focus will be on a restoration of funds for 2013-14.