The proposed operation budget for Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) totals $964.1 million and represents an increase of $62.7 million, or 7 percent from the fiscal 2020 budget.
Superintendent Michael Martirano presented his proposed operating budget for fiscal year 2020–21 (fiscal 2021) during a presentation to the Board of Education on Jan. 9. The board will now hold a series of public hearings and work sessions before submitting the board’s requested budget to the county executive.
Of the total, $670.4 million is requested from the county, an increase of $63.2 million, which includes $43.8 million above the Maintenance of Effort funding formula plus a one-time request of $9.0 million to reduce the Health Fund deficit.
Included is $277.8 million in anticipated funding from the state and $8 million in federal and other funding support. State Kirwan funding is expected to be consistent with the $8.7 million received in fiscal 2020.
The budget proposal describes the funding needed to maintain educational services while accounting for enrollment growth, fund negotiated salary increases and address severe understaffing in special education. It reflects the school system’s commitment to fiscal responsibility by fully funding health care costs and reducing the Health Fund deficit, finding savings and efficiencies in all programs, and seeking budget-neutral means to accelerate the system’s diversity, equity and inclusion work.
Martirano noted the challenges of sustaining quality educational service levels in a fiscal environment where growth in education funding does not keep pace with the growing costs for providing public education. “Although both the county and state have increased funding over the last two fiscal years,” he said, “the cost for the educational quality that we value as a community, and the amount of revenue required to pay for it, have fallen out of balance.”
The budget proposal includes $24.7 million to fulfill negotiated increases to appropriately compensate the school system’s nearly 8,800 staff members. “In an increasingly competitive market, our compensation package must attract and retain highly qualified staff. At the same time, while our staff is exceptionally dedicated, they are strained from striving to meet students’ escalating needs,” Martirano said.
Special education is a priority of the budget proposal. A $15.1 million investment for special education includes 216.8 new staff positions, including teachers, paraeducators, student assistants and related service providers; as well as nonpublic placement tuition, intervention services and other costs to support a projected increase of 299 students receiving these services.
The accrued $39.2 million Health Fund deficit has strained HCPSS finances for several years, and is the result of decisions made prior to Martirano’s tenure to underfund staff health care costs in favor of educational service and support enhancements. He outlined the school system’s plan for eliminating the deficit by year end fiscal 2022 through use of one-time fund balance and savings realized in fiscal 2020, a request for one-time support from county government, and the generation of continued budgetary savings by HCPSS.
The complete budget proposal and Martirano’s budget presentation are posted at www.hcpss.org/about-us/budgets/fy21.
The Board will hold public hearings on the proposed budget at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16 and Tuesday, Jan. 28. Work sessions will be held today, Jan. 14, as well as Jan. 21, 28 and 30, and Feb. 5, with an inclement weather date on Feb. 6. All work sessions begin at 1 p.m.
The Board is scheduled to adopt its budget request on Thursday, Feb. 13, at 3 p.m., and to approve the final fiscal 2021 Operating and Capital Budgets and fiscal 2021-25 Capital Improvement Program on Thursday, May 28, at 3 p.m. All hearings, work sessions and meetings will be held at the Department of Education, 10910 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City and streamed live on the HCPSS website.