Schools budget asks $46M county contribution

The county school board has forwarded a $220.82 million spending plan to the County Executive that asks for a local contribution of $46.15 million for the fiscal year that begins in July.

Total school spending would rise by $8.26 million, or 3.86 percent. Compared to the current year budget, the board is asking for an additional $1.99 million from county taxpayers.

Of that nearly $2 million, $1.19 million is needed to satisfy state Maintenance of Effort funding formulas. The remaining $800,000 would be used to pay for initiatives outlined in Superintendent Dr. Donna Hanlin’s “Achieve! 3.0” strategic plan.

Hanlin’s plan, in total, would cost $7.99 million to implement. The Superintendent and her budget staff, however, have identified grants and spending cuts to meet all but the $800,000.

The state will increase its education contribution to the county by $6 million, to a $154.24 million total. The federal contribution to local education will be $15.56 million, which is essentially flat to the current year.

School officials are projecting a student population of 14,891 for the coming school year. If the county funds the full $46.15 million request, the loose math would put the county’s contribution at $3,099 per student.

That number doesn’t include the county’s approximately $10 million in expected capital spending for building construction and major equipment, which is typically financed through bonds and borrowing. The state’s contribution to capital projects is pegged at nearly $15 million.

County officials have come under some scrutiny in recent years for articulating a tight purse when it comes to school spending, but Wicomico has been trending higher with its local contribution. In the 2014-15 year, the county’s commitment was $40.39 million. This year’s contribution of $44.16 million actually exceeded Maintenance of Effort. That means the county’s number has risen by $3.77 million over four years.

The county has yet to unveil its FY20 spending plan, but the current budget is about $150 million. If this year’s budget were to remain flat and the county funds the board’s full request, 30.8 percent of county spending would go toward operating the public school system.

County officials often state that half of their budget goes to education, but to approach that percentage one must include schools capital spending and contributions to Wor-Wic Community and the county library system.

The overall county budget is facing an array of potential challenges. To avoid wage compaction, the state’s proposed minimum wage hike would likely force an across-the-board salary increase for county employees.

The state Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education – popularly known as the Kirwan Commission – is expected to introduce some spending initiatives that will affect school financing.

Wicomico Director of Administration Wayne Strausburg said this week that he and Culver are sympathetic to the school board’s request.

“I think we’d like to meet the request,” Strausburg said. “Please, however, bear in mind that Kirwan is a significant bogey as is minimum wage.”

While the school board held many hours of meetings to craft the budget, Hanlin’s four budget priorities were greeted without the slightest negative reaction by the newly elected board members.

Next month, the County Executive will present his total budget to the County Council, which will notify the school board on its budget total in late May.

Greg Bassett is editor and general manager of Salisbury Independent. Reach him at gbassett@newszap.com

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