The Frederick County Board of Education has unanimously approved the superintendent’s proposed fiscal 2022 budget with one addition.
The $701 million spending plan focuses on supporting mental health and academic recovery for Frederick County Public Schools students following COVID-19.
Before members took a vote on the plan Wednesday, Board President Jay Mason asked that a youth apprenticeship coordinator be added. This position would oversee the Youth Apprentice Program, which provides opportunities for high school students to gain experience in the industry they plan to pursue after graduation.
According to FCPS budget officer Heather Clabaugh, the position will cost $109,996, including salary, benefits, fringes and one-time start-up costs.
The board was also given some updated information on where the budget stands now that Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has released his proposed fiscal 2022 budget.
FCPS will most likely see an increase in both state funding and its leftover fund balance from what was originally expected, Clabaugh said.
Staff had originally predicted a $2.5 million decrease in state funding, but based on the governor’s budget, FCPS is likely to receive just about the same level of funding as it did in fiscal 2021.
Additionally, the school system’s fund balance has increased by $4.5 million, bringing the total to approximately $10 million. This number could increase even more as the school year goes on based on spending, Clabaugh said.
The governor’s budget also included the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, with some changes and additions. The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future is a comprehensive 10-year education funding plan that has gone back and forth between Hogan and the Maryland state legislature over the past year, with each branch fighting to make it their own.
Hogan’s new version includes funding for supplemental instruction and tutoring, and grants that protect against declining enrollment and support transportation for people with disabilities.
If the governor’s budget passes as is, FCPS would receive $3.2 million for supplemental instruction and tutoring, $1.2 million to help with the declined enrollment seen this school year and $800,000 for transportation costs.
Clabaugh explained these items have not yet been reflected in the budget’s working file. Staff is hoping to get more information from the state legislature on these items. It’s possible some strings might be attached to the funds for supplemental instruction and tutoring, she said.
Board Vice President Karen Yoho said she and other education advocates from around the state have been speaking with members of the state legislature about the importance of funding this year.
“We made sure to reinforce a declining enrollment and holding harmless so all of them heard that ... [Sen. Paul Pinsky], in particular, was very interested in tutoring to make up for learning loss, so my hope is there won’t be a lot of strings attached,” she said.
Due to the new numbers from the state, the variance in the budget decreased by approximately $6.7 million. The Board of Education and the Frederick County government will now have to figure out how to make up the remaining $27 million.
Discussion on the budget by board members before the vote was brief.
Board member David Bass encouraged the public to participate in the upcoming public hearing. He also asked that the school system consider including funding to expand American Sign Language in schools in future spending plans.
Board member Sue Johnson asked a question about increasing teacher salaries. Clabaugh said any salary increases are based on annual negotiated contracts with employee bargaining units. Board members will have the opportunity to talk about teacher pay in closed session meetings.
Board member Liz Barrett said while she supports the proposed budget, she would like to see more detailed cost and return on investment analyses done on FCPS’ spending.
“Taxpayers deserve to have information ... as our budget continues to expand ... the more data and accountability is going to be crucial,” she said.
Superintendent Terry Alban responded to Barrett’s requests, saying if the board is in favor of a deeper analysis, an outside expert would have to be contracted.
“I appreciate and agree with Ms. Barrett that that’s a question many community members are going to ask. I just don’t think that our staff has the technical expertise to do that kind of analysis,” she said.