L to r) Dels. Bohanan, O'Donnell and Wood
Of the 24 school systems In Maryland, St. Mary’s County is ranked 24th in per pupil education funding. “On a competitive basis we ought to do better than that,” said Del. John Bohanan (D: 29B) Tuesday at a legislative breakfast with the St. Mary’s County Board of Education at the Forrest Center.
Bohanan said the defense industry is having a difficult time finding the employees they need in St. Mary’s County. “If you look at the Department of Defense and down the road what their needs are it’s an educated workforce,” he said.
The delegate pointed out that over the last decade county funding for education declined from 53 percent of their budget to 38 percent now, while the state’s share increased from 42 percent to 55 percent.
He said over the past few lean budget years the state has continued to make education, particularly K-12, its number one priority, resisting budget cuts. Meanwhile, School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano noted the system’s overall budget is at the same level as three years ago.
Bohanan noted that St. Mary’s is becoming wealthier with the influx of high paying jobs on base, but the local education commitment hasn’t kept pace. And the school population, unlike many in the state, is on the rise. Because of the county’s wealth, the state recently reduced the percentage they pay of the cost of school construction in the county.
Bohanan sat at the table with Delegates Tony O’Donnell (R: 29C) and John Wood (D: 29A). They took a different tact from Bohanan, cautioning that these are tough fiscal times. O’Donnell, the House minority leader, said, “In this extraordinary time all levels of government need to understand that.” He said some supporters of education funding go after whatever they can get instead of what they need.
Later in the discussion O’Donnell said that per pupil education funding was not necessarily a measure of success, noting that Baltimore city ranked second, “Yet they have a lot more challenges.” He added that those challenges were admittedly more complicated than the ones faced locally.
O’Donnell stood up for the county commissioners on the issue, saying it wouldn’t help things to criticize them when they had difficult budget decisions. “We are all in this together,” he said.
Del. Wood said he agreed with O’Donnell’s fiscal assessment. “We have very difficult times,” he said.
The discussion was prompted by an agenda item on “Full Funding of Public Education.” Later in the session the controversial item of shifting teacher pension costs to the local governments was raised. The idea is strongly advocated by Senate President Sen. Thomas “Mike” Miller (D:).
O’Donnell pointed out that there has been bipartisan support in the House against Miller on the issue. “This is not a partisan issue,” he insisted, but he added, “It is becoming increasingly more difficult to stave this off.”
All three delegates currently oppose the move, but there was concern raised that something needed to be done eventually. Bohanan pointed out that soon the state would be paying more for teacher pensions than they pay for the cost of higher education He noted that costs were skyrocketing while the state was cutting back on other programs.
Martirano pointed out that the pension systems investments had done really well even in the down e3conomic times, and said now might not be the right time to change the system.
Sen. Roy Dyson did not attend the meeting. It was reported that he is on vacation. The legislators also had a scheduled session with the county commissioners later in the day on Tuesday.