A special St. Mary’s County Commissioners’ meeting with the county’s legislative delegation on school funding issues Tuesday night featured some testy reactions from several commissioners. Delegates John Bohanan (D: 29B) and Anthony O’Donnell (R: 29c) attended the meeting. Delegates John Wood (D: 29A) and Senator Roy Dyson (D: 29) were stuck in Annapolis in committee hearings.
During the meeting Bohanan, who is chair of the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, reiterated his position that the commissioners need to provide more funding to education. The county for several years running was 24th out of 24 school systems in funding per student. This year the county ranks at 22nd in funding.
Bohanan noted that over the last five years the county had the fastest growing wealth in the state (46.7 percent) “by a country mile.” Wealth is composed of net assessable base and net taxable income. During that same time county spending on education increased 1.4 percent, while it increased 2.7 percent by the state, 7.2 percent in Charles and 14.4 percent in Calvert. “We have to compare ourselves to somebody,” he said.
Bohanan was responding to some strong criticism of the state funding formula from Commissioners Daniel Morris (R: 2nd) and Cynthia Jones (R: 1st). Jones said state funding to counties had decreased more than 13 percent since the economy had tanked.
Morris noted that Baltimore City received twice as much state funding per pupil for education than St. Mary’s County. “We are all created equal. The formula is wrong. The formula has been manipulated,” he said. He added that there may be some reason for the disparity. “The teachers (in Baltimore) probably get combat pay,” he said.
Bohanan said that the reason why Baltimore gets more per pupil is because “Baltimore City has a lot more at-risk kids and they are more expensive to educate.” But Bohanan noted that the reason why St. Mary’s County gets so much less is that the state looks at the county’s wealth and concludes that the county can afford to pay more.
County school systems get funding from federal, state and the local jurisdictions. Bohanan noted that the funding formula for federal and state monies is fixed. He said the only flexibility is in local funding. He added that if there was something in the state formula that needed to be fixed to would gladly lead the charge to do that.
The notion that St. Mary’s County is wealthy brought an angry reaction from Morris, “We are so wealthy because a few of us make a lot of money,” he said, adding “We have homeless people. We have people who are hungry.”
Every county in the state is required by law to provide “Maintenance of Effort” funding to their school systems. That means they can’t decrease funding from year to year. This year St. Mary’s County provided $750,000 more than last year. Because of the economy several counties have not provided Maintenance of Effort. Bohanan ha