Leonardtown, MD — “We have solved it on our own.” That’s how St. Mary’s County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Michael Martirano describes the school system’s response to its $6 million budget deficit. The school system will be reporting to the county commissioners that the deficit has been absorbed internally and no additional money is needed from the county. Originally Martirano had said a minimum of $782,000 was needed from the county to help dig the schools out of their budget hole.

Assistant Superintendent of Fiscal Services and Human Resources Tammy McCourt presented the final Fiscal Year 2014 report to the school board Wednesday at their regular meeting. She reported that at the end of the fiscal year (June 30) the budget still is left with a $480,726 fund balance.

McCourt explained that the budget was brought back in line through a series of belt tightening measures that included position and spending freezes, reductions in positions and net salaries at all levels, and cuts in planned textbook and instructional supplies purchases.

The members of the school system’s employee unions will be quick to point out that the savings were achieved on their backs, with anticipated cost-of-living and step increases eliminated in the current fiscal year budget.

The deficit was also made up by using a $1 million insurance reserve. Because the school board voted to change the way it handles employee health insurance, there was a savings of almost $600,000 that could be credited to help solve the deficit. The change away from the so-called modified retrospective system, plus some unexpected employee health care issues, were blamed for the $6 million shortfall.

Martirano, who is leaving next month to assume the position of West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, noted the budget challenges he and the school board have experienced over his 10-year tenure. He said, as he has several times recently, that the community needs to begin a “conversation” about changing the year-to-year crisis mentality.

Martirano also repeated that St. Mary’s, with its wealth, was 24th or 24 jurisdictions in per capita funding for schools, when all levels of funding are considered. The commissioners consistently point at that when local funding only is considered, St. Mary’s is in the middle of the pack.

Board member Cathy Allen praised McCourt for uncovering and handling the budget crisis when she started the job earlier this year upon the early retirement of former fiscal department head Greg Nourse. “It is a great testament to you that you didn’t turn around and run across the bridge,” Allen said. McCourt came to St. Mary’s from a  similar position in Calvert County.

Board member Mary Washington noted that they had not only dealt with the immediate problem, but also had taken steps to insure it wouldn’t happen again. She said the school system was able to handle the problem because McCourt discovered it when she did.

The school board unanimously voted to direct Martirano to forward the FY 2014 budget adjustment to the county commissioners for their action.