On Thursday, Jan. 29, St. Mary’s County Public Schools superintendent, Michael J. Martirano stood before the School Board, explaining the complicated school budget for 2009 to an attentive audience. Dr. Martirano and his staff looked haggard and extremely tired. It had been a long couple of weeks.

Consider the fact that the State of Maryland slashed funding across the board for every school district in the state. Consider the fact that St. Mary’s County Board of County Commissioners had also indicated that funding for the beleaguered school system would not be as promised. Consider that fact that SMCPS is mid way through constructing the first new school in many years – Evergreen Elementary School, the first-of-its kind “green” school. Consider the fact that there are still over 17,000 students that need to be educated, transported and fed.

Even with all the considerations, even after all the budget cuts and funding shortfalls, Martirano and his staff managed, somehow, to present a balanced budget to the school board; balanced, even though there was $1.8 million less with which to work.

“In my 15 years in education, I have never had to create a budget with less funding than the year before,” said an exhausted Martirano to the board.

The herculean effort took its toll on SMCPS staffers who had to examine every facet, every detail and every minute line item in the $178.8 million budget, cutting here and there where they could, slashing where they had to, rearranging items when there was the opportunity to do so. Herculean because the budget situation changed when the state announced its funding shortfall and then again when the commissioners had to withhold promised funding; herculean because everything had to be done in short order to keep SMCPS in the business of educating the children.

Martirano indicated his staff did what they had to in order to make balance the budget, but did so while maintaining the level of education. “We are in the business of educating children,” said Martirano.

To be certain, the situation is not settled by any means. SMCPS was able adjust the budget this year and is looking toward 2010 and beyond with a wary eye toward the economy and what the ramifications of a continued downward trend will mean to education.

“We are still hopeful that the County Commissioners will be able to provide the funding so we can open Evergreen Elementary School and the budget reflects that,” said Martirano.

The superintendent told the board that this was a fluid situation and the budget is presented with no absolute certainty that it will not have to be changed once again. If that should become the case, Martirano and staff will spend more endless, sleepless nights and days trying their best to maintain the level of education for St. Mary’s Children.