The maintenance-of-effort budget was initiated in fiscal 2010-2011 and continued through fiscal 2014-2015, when County Executive Jan Gardner and the County Council reversed the trend. Thus, the fiscal 2009-2010 budget was the anchor year for the subsequent five future budgets, with adjustments for the number of students.
For the fiscal 2015-2016 budget, Frederick County Public Schools received $4.1 million above MoE from the county, however, this was largely offset by the denial of Geographical Cost of Education Index, or GCEI funds by the state. Thus, notwithstanding county government’s effort to increase the budget beyond MoE, the denial of the GCEI funds by the state resulted in FCPS’ budget remaining, more or less, at MoE levels.
The term “maintenance of effort” is misleading, because anchoring a budget to a particular year is in that year’s dollar number and not in dollar value. In other words, in none of the subsequent years were adequate funds provided to sustain education efforts at the level of the previous year or the anchor year (2009) level, adjusted for inflation. The decreased value of the dollar due to inflation necessitated decreased effort applied to academics for each of the six years.
The attached table provides the actual depreciated value of budgets for the six years. The inflation rate is compounded, because the impact of the inflation rate for a given year persists in the future year and the impact of each year of the school budget is linked to the following year. Thus, if in a particular year, say for the sixth grade, textbook purchases had to be changed, that cost shows up the next year for students graduating from the fifth grade.
Some of this depreciation was offset by not providing pay increases to teachers and other staff, not setting aside sufficient funds for OPEB (other post-employment benefits for retired employees), and savings in utilities, etc. On the negative side, the deficit was made worse by the increased cost of health care insurance. Another area of savings was with the retirement of senior teachers and their replacement with lower-paid new recruits. However, this was a major negative for education, replacing highly qualified, experienced teacher with just-graduated candidates. It should be noted that the realties of the budget have kept FCPS teacher salaries in uncompetitive ranges. The salaries of the new recruits to FCPS ranks 24th out of 24 school districts in Maryland.
The cumulative deficit is taking its toll. The BoE has had to make drastic cuts in its original proposed budget for each of the past six years, resulting in cuts in important categories, such as textbooks and not contributing adequately to fund OPEB.
To balance the budget for fiscal 2015-2016, the BoE increased the class size by one student across all schools, resulting in a reduction to the number of teachers in every school, and providing savings of $5.2 million. This reduction in number of teachers has resulted in overcrowded classrooms, increased workloads for teachers, and a shortfall of resources.
Another adverse impact of this strategy is felt in high schools with the unavailability of classes in certain subject areas, such as music, or an inadequate availability of electives, such as Advanced Placement courses. Another unintended consequence of this approach has been that smaller and medium-sized high schools (Brunswick, Catoctin, Middletown and Walkersville) have paid a higher price because they have less capacity to compensate and adjust their academic schedules.
The current FCPS budget request is being considered and should be evaluated against this backdrop. It is likely that some accountants may find some discrepancies in the table I have provided. However, I’m attempting to provide the overall trend of FCPS budget depreciation over the past six years and its pernicious impact on education of our children.
is a member of the Frederick County Board of Education. He writes from Frederick.