An at-times contentious meeting between the St. Mary’s County Board of Education and the county commissioners failed to lead to any decision Monday with Commissioner President Francis “Jack” Russell D) l insisting more information was needed. He tasked the staffs of the two boards with coming up with that information.
With the commissioners’ deadline for making a budget decision for the next fiscal year just a week away, decisions on the school systems’ $6 million shortfall for the current year still are unresolved.
“Health care is the real issue,” said School Superintendent Dr. Michael Martirano, although the budget shortfall is actually $1.25 million more with overruns in utilities, weather related costs and special education. But those shortfalls are being addressed by a belt tightening already underway.
At a school board meeting last week three options for the commissioners were approved that include a range from no bail out to upwards of $3.7 million from the commissioners’ undesignated fund balance. But the most outspoken critic of the school system Commissioner Todd Morgan (R: 4th). “My answer right now is not to bail you out.”
The joint meeting started with a presentation from Martirano and new Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services and Human Resources Tammy McCourt. Martirano said that McCourt discovered the budget problems in February and notified him and he in turn notified the board.
Martirano said in the early days of knowing about the shortfall the exact extent of the crisis was not known, It has been blamed on a number of factors which he called a perfect storm: increased employee enrollment, increased prescription usage, and more catastrophic employee health care cases,
The school system for the current fiscal year changed from a procedure in which they budgeted actual health care costs from the previous year to predicting current costs and budgeting them. They had hoped to save money by going to a triple-option for employees.
Care First Blue Cross/Blue Shield had recommended that the system budget $2 million more than they actually did, which would have partially mitigated the $6 million crisis. “There is great frustration in the process,” Martirano said, noting that the reason for the under-budgeting is unclear. Martirano said if he had known sooner he could have taken action sooner. As to why that didn’t happen, he said, “Those are conversations that are occurring internally.”
After McCourt and Martirano finished their Power Point presentation, Morgan asked the school board members, who were sitting in the audience, to come fo