Harford County Public Schools is set to request a $33 million funding increase from county government for the 2015 fiscal year, more than quadruple the amount that county government has predicted its overall revenue will rise next year. If the Board of Education adopts the operating budget request as recommended in December by Interim Superintendent Barbara Canavan, and if county revenue projections hold up, something’s gotta give.
Options for county government include a tax increase, or a shift in funding from its other operations to increase funding for schools.
Absent an increase in funding from the county or other sources, the school board would have to cut spending, including potential cuts to existing operations in order to meet state and federal education mandates, and to address other non-discretionary cost increases. In that case, the devil will be in the details.
With the above in mind, The Dagger brings you the details underlying the nearly $33 million funding increase requested in the superintendent’s proposed operating budget, which is currently under review by the school board. But first, some budget background:
Interim Superintendent Canavan recommended in mid-December that the school board adopt a $457.5 million operating budget request for fiscal year 2015, an increase of $32.7 million or 7.7% over the current (2014) fiscal year.
The increase is comprised of $13.7 million for employee raises (subject to negotiation with the unions), a $10.1 million rise in the cost of employee benefits, plus a $8.9 million increase the “cost of doing business”. The latter includes mandated spending related to the state’s participation in the federal Race to the Top program, the Common Core State Standards, and PARCC assessments. It also includes hiring 70 teachers to reduce class size by restoring staffing to 2012-13 levels; restoring half of previous cuts to funding for library materials, and implementing certain science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs in the middle schools where they are not currently offered.
On the heels of Canavan’s proposal, Harford County government on December 17th projected that the revenue it will collect next year from property taxes would be “flat or slightly lower”, and income tax revenue would show a “marginal increase”. Overall, county officials estimated a $7.6 million revenue increase in fiscal year 2015 to help fund county government departments and agencies, including schools. Officials noted that the revenue estimate is preliminary and subject to revision.
The other primary funding source for school operations is state aid, which is expected to rise next year by $2.8 million to $196 million. However, the increase is more than offset by anticipated and planned reductions in funding from other sources. The result is a request for county funding in the amount of $254 million, or a $33 million increase.
That’s a proposed $33 million funding increase requested for schools versus a $7.6 million revenue increase projected by county government.
A mismatch between the school system’s budget request and government funding is nothing new. But the looming gap for next year follows years of declining revenue from the state*, flat funding from county government and rising expenditures.
Here’s how school officials tell the budget background story with numbers:
“Since fiscal year 2010, Harford County Public Schools’ operating costs have increased $55.8 million. In the same time period, revenue decreased $9.1 million for a net budgetary shortfall of $64.9 million. The primary increase in expenditures represent costs deemed necessary to provide mandated services, meeting contractual obligations and to maintain the integrity of the instruction programs.”
Source: Superintendent’s Proposed Budget Fiscal Year 2015.
The increased expenditures since fiscal 2010 included a negotiated salary increase for employees (in fiscal year 2013), a mandated shift in teacher pension costs from the state to the county, and rises in health insurance costs. To make up the shortfall and balance their operating budget, school officials during that time period cut 240 positions, found savings in employee turnover and other areas, and increased use of the school system’s fund balance to pay for operations, among other measures.
Those other measures included cutbacks in bus transportation service for magnet school students and increasing the number of elementary schools on fourth-tier busing. New fees were also implemented for students to play high school sports and participate in school activities in elementary through high school. Upset parents, encouraged by community leaders, threatened lawsuits. Add to the mix, outraged teachers whose contractual step increases have gone unfunded in four of the past five years.
School officials warn that without more funding, next year could mean deeper cuts and more revenue-raising measures. At least one board member has hinted broadly at closing schools with low enrollment to save money.
Thus, the stage is set for the fiscal year 2015 budget.
So without further ado, below is the breakdown and rationale for each item that comprises the requested changes in the unrestricted expense fund (operating budget) as recommended by Interim Superintendent Canavan for the 2015 fiscal year. In addition to increased spending, areas of savings are also identified in these charts, which were included in the 500-page budget published online by HCPS.
A schedule of the school board’s planned budget meetings and public input sessions can be found here, along with a video outlining the timeline and budget development process: http://www.hcps.org/budget/
* State aid is calculated based on student enrollment and an assessment of a county’s wealth relative to other Maryland counties. State wealth formulas distribute aid in inverse proportion to a county’s relative wealth. HCPS reports that enrollment has declined over the past five years by 795 students to a total of 37,842 as of September 2013.