The job of the Frederick County commissioners is to wisely use the tax revenues they collect for the good of the citizens of Frederick County. The decisions they make have a direct impact on the quality of life in our county. Wise investments have positive impacts far into the future. Shortsighted and overtly political decisions lead to greater future costs and missed opportunities to improve our quality of life and economic competitiveness.
The Board of County Commissioners has funded our highly regarded school system at the lowest level allowed by law for five years now. Maintenance of Effort (MOE) funding assumes no increases in funding for inflation, unfunded mandates, employee compensation or strategic initiatives. For these reasons, cuts to current education programs and services have to be made under MOE funding. Sadly, a majority of our commissioners remain publicly committed to continuing this inadequate funding, despite the slow but steady economic recovery, including increasing county revenues. In fact, overall county spending has increased, while education funding has remained stagnant.
Shortly after the fiscal 2014 budgeting process ended, County Commissioner President Blaine Young stated that our schools would receive MOE funding again in fiscal 2015. A majority of the board apparently believes the county should under-fund education without considering revenue projections for fiscal 2015, and without any consideration, or even discussion, of the educational needs of this county. It appears Commissioner Young and his supporters on the board use ideology, not information, when it comes to funding the school system.
It is my hope the county commissioners reconsider this approach. They should reserve judgment on the allocation they make to the Board of Education until the board creates a budget and makes the case for that budget. They can then make an informed and fair decision that considers all the needs of the county, including those of the school system. The Board of Education has made do with stagnant budgets for five years now. They have deferred employee pay raises, cut 12- and 11-month teachers back to 10 months, eliminated positions, cut spending on materials, such as paper, and increased employee contributions to benefits. Unlike county employees, school employees have not gotten a cost of living adjustment in five years. In the same five years, employee contributions to pensions have increased. In the 2012-13 school year, teachers and support staff were even furloughed as a way to finance a partial step increase (county employees received a full step increase with no furlough the same year). Demands on the schools are increasing, not decreasing. Teachers are constantly being told to do more with less and expectations on both educators and students continue to rise. As Commissioner Young stated in a Sept. 27 News-Post article, “We have required and asked our (county) employees to do more with less. If we do not have some type of reward for them, it’s common sense that you’re going to have issues.” Doesn’t this obvious point also apply to school system employees?
It is time for the county commissioners to see that education is a legitimate area of investment for this county. It is time for them to see that MOE funding is actually a cut to the school system’s budget. It is time for the commissioners to treat the Board of Education and their employees fairly instead of punishing them for political reasons. It is time for the commissioners to stop playing politics and put the needs of students and educators before their political motivations.
is president of the Frederick County Teachers Association. He writes from Walkersville.