As state and local leaders, we are all working diligently and thoughtfully to address budget concerns in order to secure a viable future within our state. I am currently reviewing county departmental budget proposals to reduce spending by a total of 5% in order to close a $15.8 million shortfall in [fiscal] 2015. Howard County’s Spending Affordability Committee is currently evaluating several issues that will assist with decisions for the [fiscal] 2016 budget cycle.
While I support the notion that we must collectively share in correcting the deficits we face, I am concerned about the current proposed budget’s impact on state aid for Howard County, particularly for education funding. Howard County is known and sought after for its exceptional school system, libraries and community college. It would be disappointing to not be able to maintain some of our crowning achievements.
Based on Howard County’s assessment of the [fiscal] 2016 proposed state budget, the County would need to shoulder an overall $7.9 million reduction in state aid from current law funding levels. Of that amount, $6.6 million would be lost in direct aid to our educational institutions.
- $5.7 million from the Howard County Board of Education;
- $899,856 from Howard Community College; and
- $44,469 from the Howard County Library System.
The [fiscal] 2015 Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) budget already reflects a zero-based budgeting approach for the first time in Howard County. In Howard County, 80 cents of every budget dollar will go directly to the classroom. Another 11 cents are used for facility operation and maintenance and 5 cents cover transportation. That leaves just 4 cents per budget dollar for administration — an overhead level that is the second lowest among counties in the state. In short, we are rather lean for the quality education our students receive.
Looking ahead, Howard County Public School System Superintendent Dr. Renee Foose has submitted a proposed $780.8 million operating budget to the Board of Education for [fiscal] 2016. It identifies significant financial pressures on budget areas that are non-negotiable and outside our control. Of particular concern is our expected enrollment growth of 1,645 students next year given that Maintenance of Effort provisions only support approximately 845 new students.
I share this financial picture with you in order to highlight that the proposed state budget cuts in education funding would severely hamper Howard County’s ability to provide the outstanding student experience that is expected by our residents. I urge you to restore the $6.6 million in direct state aid for education to Howard County. Howard County stands ready to assist you in this effort.