Cecil Co. Budget: Panel Says No Empl...

Cecil Co. Budget: Panel Says No Employee Layoffs, Give Schools More $

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Censored Again

United States

#1 Apr 20, 2011
The "editor" of Topix is yet again censoring Cecil County news.
The Cecil County Commissioners got a report from their citizens' budget advisory panel that found the county schools were getting lots less than people think and public safety spending is rising a lot. Lots of interesting information here, but the censor of Topix ("Peter zenger" alias m. Dixon) won't post it on the Cecil County "news" section or allow the roboblogger software to post it)
Read it for yourself here:
http://ceciltimes.com/2011/04/cecil-county-bu...
County Parent

United States

#2 Apr 20, 2011
Thanks for bringing this information out. I knew the county schools were not getting a fair shake and this report proves it. No layoffs for other county employees, the group says. But the schools have already had to come up with layoff plans to meet the budget cut demands! Let's lay off a few of the county commissioners to save money.
Interested

Elkton, MD

#3 Apr 20, 2011
County Parent wrote:
Thanks for bringing this information out. I knew the county schools were not getting a fair shake and this report proves it. No layoffs for other county employees, the group says. But the schools have already had to come up with layoff plans to meet the budget cut demands! Let's lay off a few of the county commissioners to save money.
I don't disagree there are a few commissioners that don't deserve the right to represent us.

However, how does this report "prove" that county schools aren't getting a fair shake? Every report indicates this group was an independent group of people looking at all possibilities for cutting County expenditures. With CCPS comprising the largest part of the county's budget, it makes sense they would receive the same analysis and scrutiny as all other departments, etc. I think the report was just point out the savings of "flat funding" vs "maintenance of effort" funding (what the county is required to fund). If they left CCPS out of their analysis, I'd be the first to "cry foul".
Crying Foul

Neavitt, MD

#4 Apr 21, 2011
Interested wrote:
<quoted text>
I don't disagree there are a few commissioners that don't deserve the right to represent us.
However, how does this report "prove" that county schools aren't getting a fair shake? Every report indicates this group was an independent group of people looking at all possibilities for cutting County expenditures. With CCPS comprising the largest part of the county's budget, it makes sense they would receive the same analysis and scrutiny as all other departments, etc. I think the report was just point out the savings of "flat funding" vs "maintenance of effort" funding (what the county is required to fund). If they left CCPS out of their analysis, I'd be the first to "cry foul".
Interested,

I believe ‘County Parent’s’ criticism is of what the report says about the level of support education is receiving, not of the Committee itself. And agreed, education funding should have been included. And that was at the direction of one of the Commissioners. The “proof” is in what the report says.

Education funding as a % of the county’s total budget is down (49.9% to 42.2). That means the rate of growth in government excluding education is much higher. Is that fair?

The committee recommended layoffs and furloughs as a last resort. The school system reduced 60 positions in the past two years (without layoffs) and is proposing another 83 (with layoffs). That’s 7% of their workforce. For other county agencies, that would mean eliminating 43 positions. How many positions has the county reduced? Oh, that’s right, they are requesting 14 more. Is that fair?

The committee recommends a cut of $1,000,000 in school funding as a “compromise” between maintenance of effort and flat funding. The difference between the two funding levels is $1.2 million. Funding only $200k above the minimum required is a compromise? Is that fair?

The school system has addressed a $7.6 million reduction in revenue by implementing a significant number of cost saving initiatives over the past several years, and requests no increase in funding from the county. The county is responding to their revenue shortfall by raising the tax rate maintain the same level of revenue (excluding new development). Oh, but wait…that’s not a tax increase, that’s “constant yield”. Sure feels like one to me. Why isn’t it ok to fund the schools at constant yield? Is that fair?

Crime is up, poverty is up, unemployment is up, purchase of swamp land is up and taxes are up. Vs. student achievement is up and education funding is down. Is that fair (to our children’s future)?

Are you satisfied with a minimum level of effort? If you are truly interested, you should be “crying foul”.

By the way....the Commissioners already rejected one the the committee's recommendations to modify their healthcare plans to save $1.1 million (something the school system did last year and saved $2.3 million). We shall see what they do with the rest of the recommendations.
County Parent

United States

#5 Apr 21, 2011
"Crying Foul" said it much better than I ever could. I was not at all being critical of the citizens' committee. They absolutely should look at education. And I am pleased that they pointed out that educations had dropped as a percentage of overall county spending-- a fact that a lot of people have been ignoring for several years.

My point, which is expressed so much better by "Crying Foul," was that the school system had already taken steps like cutting employees that other departments have not. The budget committee said there should not be furloughs or layoffs for county employees-- but the schools have ALREADY had to do that!
Fiscal Interest

Easton, MD

#6 Apr 21, 2011
I am in no way against any teacher, but didn't the teachers get a raise last year? Just clarifying, because if so,unfortunately, that is a downside to having a contract. If there is a budget crisis and a group of employees are slated to get a raise, then others in that group will suffer (with lay-offs, etc.) to make up the difference for that raise. Personally, I think it is sickening that county governments try and fix budgets on the backs of teachers, police, fire fighters and paramedics. The people who provide the most essential services to the citizens always seem to get beat down the most!
Crying Foul

Grand Rapids, MI

#7 Apr 22, 2011
Fiscal Interest wrote:
I am in no way against any teacher, but didn't the teachers get a raise last year? Just clarifying, because if so,unfortunately, that is a downside to having a contract. If there is a budget crisis and a group of employees are slated to get a raise, then others in that group will suffer (with lay-offs, etc.) to make up the difference for that raise. Personally, I think it is sickening that county governments try and fix budgets on the backs of teachers, police, fire fighters and paramedics. The people who provide the most essential services to the citizens always seem to get beat down the most!
Yes, teachers (actually all) CCPS employees received a COLA of 1.1% this year. Last year they received a 1.8% COLA, next year no COLA, however all employees will have to contribute another 2% of their salary to maintain current pension benefit levels (the additional contributions are not going to the pension fund, but to the general fund…a discussion for another time). Last year the county reduced their support to education by $1.5 million to the minimum maintenance of effort level. This year they again funded at the minimum level (another $35k reduction). Both years, the school system balanced their budget implementing long-term cost reductions that included position reductions (no layoffs), benefit changes and numerous business process improvements. The cuts were not arbitrary, or based on some irrational funding formula, but rather on a long-term strategy to maximize resources allocated to direct education services. In fact, the administrative services portion of their budget has not increased since 2007. That’s five years with no increase in spending. Now they are faced with a reduction in revenue of over $7.5 million, which they addressed not asking for any additional funding from the county.

All of that aside, the question is “What is the justification to reduce school funding by $1,000,000 when county revenue projections are flat and the committee has suggested $6.8 million in savings excluding the cut to education?” Answer: None.
The schools leadership made a commitment early on in their budget process not to ask for additional funding from the county even when original projections were for a $4.5 million cut in funding from state and federal sources. When another $3.0 million in cuts were added, the schools maintained their commitment not to ask the county to make up the difference. On the other hand, when there was a possibility that the county may be forced to pay a portion of the teacher pensions currently paid by the state, they were preparing to ask for a waiver to go BELOW the maintenance of effort level to cover the cost.

The accomplishments of the school system should be applauded and held as an example of effective leadership, focused on a mission, dealing with severe economic challenges and major reform initiatives.

There is no fiscal justification to cut education funding and/or other government services for that matter. What is of real concern is the ineptness of the majority of the commissioners (the three amigos). I firmly believe they do not have the capacity to lead. They have been fumbling and bumbling their way, showing up occasionally, putting forth ridiculous proposals, disregarding current law and prior commitments.

We are two weeks away from them releasing their proposed budget. Three months ago (days after appointing this committee) Mullen and Dunn put forth their plan to cut $10 million from the budget (excluding education). Nothing has been said since then.

We are in real trouble here people.

Since: May 09

Grand Rapids, MI

#8 Apr 22, 2011
Wow! A Topix blog with intelligent content? I'm thrilled and shocked!

Do we really need 5 commissioners? The votes are always 3-2 so couldn't we really screw up the county with just the 3 amigos and leave the other two out? I've attended meetings where officials don't even pay attention. They just send text messages during other agency presentations. They pop in late on a regular basis. Obviously the 3 don't even need to attend meetings, they know how they will vote. They just bent Hodge over regarding his rezoning requests. They just screwed the entire community at Carpenter's Point. Where will it end? Our kids educational opportunity will be gutted? Great.

If the county government wanted to save ANY money, wouldn't the revised health benefits plan have helped? What's a million dollars in savings anyway when they can just cut education by a million dollars! Do any of them have children attending our public schools? Not all of us can afford to send our kids/grandkids to private school.

These arrogant puppets will rob my children of a decent education and they could care less! The community needs to come together and try to stop it. Write, call, email, snail mail----- but you better do it before May 1 or it will be too late. Please help the kids in Cecil County.
Jackie Gregory

Elkton, MD

#9 Apr 22, 2011
I commend Commiss. Hodge for initiating this committee and hope that it will be something that the commissioners utilize on an annual basis. The committee gave a great service to the community. It is important not to put spin on the report by the committee, who did an excellent job given the limited amount of time they had. They made it clear that they were not attempting to editorialize on what the correct ratio of education funding should be in comparison to the overall budget, be it 49.9% or the current 42.2%, but were simply making the point that comparatively speaking, other aspects of the budget had been rising disproportionately to the amount of revenue available, and this is unsustainable. It is also important to note that while the school has found it necessary to reduce personnel, the Superintendent indicated in a previous Whig article that the cuts that were suggested were largely due to funding cuts from the state and federal government. Stimulus money is no longer available, and the state has reduced the amount of money it is providing to the districts. That is not a result of the action of the commissioners, who have also had transportation and various other funds cut from the state level. That is why this committee is so important to begin this year, and to continue in future years to look for savings on behalf of the citizens. We are by necessity going to need to be much more self-reliant as a county and as individuals if the current economic trend continues.
Jackie Gregory

Elkton, MD

#10 Apr 22, 2011
Teachers usually get cost of living increases, in addition to step increases. From what I hear in other counties, many are still seeking COLAs even though funding has decreased. Cecil County Public schools seem to be much more proactive and conscious of the economic realities than many other areas as they have proposed cuts and a freeze on COLAs. Teachers will still get their step increases; all teachers get an increase just for being employed another year. This increase is not based on performance, so the teacher who shows movies every day will get the same step increase as the teacher who gives 110% effort to his/her students. It is not like the private sector, where a pay freeze or a pay cut actually means just that. Also, the required increases to fund the pensions and to pay for administrative costs of their benefits is a result of state legislation, not a result of any actions the local government. It is important to realize that the 2% more that they are required to pay goes into their own retirement, so they are actually paying it to themselves. On the other hand, the state (taxpayers) fund teacher pensions at approximately 16% of the overall salary of teachers. This is virtually unheard of in the private sector. Most private sector companies have 401ks in which they will match up to a certain percent (usually a single digit number much less than 16%) of what an employee contributes. Many companies not only cut pay but also cut 401k matching when the recession hit. People can demand more government services and increased pay and benefits for public employees all they want, but the reality is this: If the people in the private sector who actually pay for these things are making less money and experiencing higher bills from fuel prices and inflation, there is barely money to maintain these things much less increase them. There is a finacial reality now that must be dealt with. I am hoping for nothing higher than a constant yield tax rate, but for middle class families and small business owners who have seen a loss of income, even that is burdensome for many.
Crying Foul

Grand Rapids, MI

#11 Apr 22, 2011
Jackie,

I agree it is important not to put spin on the committee report and commend the commissioners that supported forming the committee. However, one recommendation of the committee (healthcare) was already rejected by the commissioners – over a $1 million savings – based on “actions of the legislature and other economic factors”– from the county website.

All of the recommendations of the committee were based on some analysis (save one – education). The report said,“With the increase in state funding for education, a $1,000,000 cut in education funding maintains county funding between maintenance of effort and flat funding.” No cost analysis there. When delivering the report Mr. Butkiewicz reiterated this point and further said the difference between the two funding levels was $1.7 million and this seemed to be a good compromise. The difference is not $1.7 million, it is actually $1.2 million. Also, the “additional funding” was the legislature reinstating a portion of the amount reduced in the Gov’s budget. The recovered cut amount is $877 thousand, a small portion of the $3.6 million cut. So, the suggested $1 million compromise exceeds the so called “additional funding” and would result in funding $200k above the minimum MOE. No spin, just the numbers.

Also, the 2% additional pension contribution – for all state employees (except police, fire, judges and legislators) is NOT going to the pension fund. State employees are NOT “paying themselves”. That would be fine if that were the case. Read the final BRFA. The $100 million in “savings” this generates goes to the general fund for the next two years. The legislature put a $300 million cap on the total they can divert and capped their max contribution at 20% of salaries…..hmmmm what will they do when that happens? Duck and cover…. Pushing the admin costs to the schools is the camel’s nose under the tent. They did not address the fundamental problem with the pension system. It’s not a 401k. Participants have no control over how the plans are managed. The legislature kicked the can down the road past the next election cycle.

As the committee pointed out (with the limited time available) there are plenty of opportunities to cut cost and at the same time preserve basic government services.

Are all of the commissioners up to the challenge? Again I have to say….we are in big trouble people.
Jackie Gregory

Elkton, MD

#12 Apr 22, 2011
Crying Foul, I agree with most of what you said, and I did leave out the 2% going into the general fund for the first two years. I agree that the state did take the easy way out and merely bought itself another year's worth of time in which the pensions will become more insolvent. My point was primarily that the state does play a huge role in education funding, and I wanted to point out that the recent cuts in the school budget have a lot to do with that and are not related to local funding. Also, I believe that there are ways to make things more efficient without compromising the quality of education. Private schools typically provide an excellent education on a much smaller budget. Too bad we don't live in a no income tax state. Then we could keep our dollars in our community and spend or save them how we see fit instead of sending them to Annapolis to be mismanaged and wasted.

Since: May 09

Grand Rapids, MI

#13 Apr 23, 2011
Jackie, the commissioners are considering cutting all department budgets. "Everything is on the table" is Mr. Mullin's quote.

Both state & federal money has been cut from education. Make no mistake, the commissioners will do everything in their power to cut the CCPS budget from flat funding. The committee just "suggested" another million dollars in cuts for education. That would take their funding of CCPS very close to maintenance of effort without using that term. Why will the commissioners do that, you ask? Because it is easier than changing their own healthcare plan and it won't touch their personal pockets. The vote will be 3-2.

Go to CCPS.org and study the budget (posted for all to see). CCPS has been proactively tightening their belt for several years. Energy, health insurance, eliminating positions through attrition & more. The commissioners should use them as an example of HOW to conserve without devastating families by placing heads of households on unemployment.

Yes, employees have received minuscule pay increases. Teacher retention is a positive step in providing quality education for our children. Is the CCPS payscale near the top of ed systems to work for in close proximity to us? NO.

If the county had any serous interest in cost savings, they would have made changes to their healthcare plans. The committee offered that as a million dollar cost savings measure. The committee stated layoffs & furloughs should be a last resort. They did NOT say layoffs & furloughs should be a last resort EXCEPT for the school system.

Our kids deserve a quality education. I do not have the money to send my children to private school.
Crying Foul

Grand Rapids, MI

#14 Apr 23, 2011
Jackie,
To your point, recent cuts have a lot to do with the reductions in state and federal funding. No argument there. And yes, county governments are being dumped on as well. All local entities are seeing more unfunded mandates coming down from the feds and the state – everything from giving in-state tuition breaks to illegals to restrictive septic regulations and now a major education reform initiative “Race to the Top”. And yes, wouldn’t it be great if we were able to reduce taxes and have more local control. That is the fight we have to win.

The question is, what are we doing with the hand we are dealt? Here is an example:

Several years ago, county government and the school system decided they were both in need of upgrading/expanding their administrative office facilities. County government chose to build a $24 million facility on the Delaware border. The school system decided to renovate their existing 70 year old administration building in the heart of Elkton in addition to numerous energy conservation and technology upgrades to all their buildings that generated enough savings to pay for the total cost of the project. And that was at a time when the county was seeing double digit increases in property tax revenue and the schools were seeing a decline in the level of support from local government.

Back to the Citizen’s Advisory Committee report – the majority of the report focused on the nine year trend in county revenue and spending. And for me, the biggest take away from the report is their conclusion that the growth trend in county government cannot be sustained. Big news, right? County schools recognized years ago that their spending trend (although mostly because of government mandates) could not be sustained and began to take steps to dramatically reduce costs (and still meet those mandates) and have been very successful in doing so. Can they do more? Of course they can. And based on recent past performance, I believe they will. In contrast, what has county government done? How have they responded to the state cuts so far? Closed bridges, chip and tar roads, build a bigger jail, buy more swampland, change zoning on businesses that have been operating here for years, discourage new businesses from relocating here because no one can trust they will keep their commitments, look for short sighted quick fix temporary solutions, no capital investment in school facilities, no increases for county employees for three years…and on and on….

We cannot allow our government officials off the hook by arbitrarily cutting education funding and justifying it based on the fact that they will still be providing the minimum effort required by law, or, as the report says “…..because of increased state funding.” That well is running dry.
Crying Foul

Grand Rapids, MI

#15 Apr 23, 2011
Jackie,

Private schools have a lower budget?

First, you cannot use private tuition vs. cost of public education. Private schools get much of their support from alumni and endowments. Tuition is not their budget. Also, look at the fees paid in addition to tuition (books, transportation, athletics…).

Second, the following is from Tome School’s website (private k-12, no pre-school or pre-k as mandated and unfunded for public schools).“In order to be considered for admission to the Tome School, parents must submit a written application that is available from the school office. This application entails personal information, references, and authorization to release school records. Tome School has a limited number of openings each year, especially in the lower school, so early application is encouraged.

Because of its size and its distinctive educational program, Tome is not suited to all children. The school seeks to identify and enroll students in the above average range of academic aptitude. The admission procedure is initiated by an interview with the Head of School or other school official. Admission to kindergarten is based on application and student evaluation in the spring. Enrollment in grades 1-12, when spaces are available, requires individual testing in reading comprehension and mathematics skills and in general intellectual ability. To gain admission, a child must perform within the range of achievement in the Tome class for which he is applying. The achievement scores at Tome are above the national norms for standardized tests.”

Compare that to Cecil County Public Schools Mission Statement –“Our Mission is to provide an excellent pre-kindergarten through graduation learning experience that enables ALL students to demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and attitudes required for lifelong learning and productive citizenship in an ever-changing global society.”

Which do you think costs more?

What is a valid comparison is the cost of education in Cecil County vs. other counties in the state. Cecil County ranks 19th of 24 in cost per student while ranking 18th in wealth. In other words, based on cost/wealth alone, Cecil citizens are paying less than they can afford to pay.

What is even more striking is the “Return on Education Investment”. When you compare spending to student achievement, Cecil County ranks 6th in Maryland. That’s ahead of Anne Arundel (7th), Montgomery (8th), and our neighbors Kent (23rd) and Harford (14th). This is from a recent study conducted by the “Center for American Progress”– here is a link to the report.

http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/0...

Why wasn’t this in the citizen's advisory report? What is our return on county government spending?

“Truther”

Since: Nov 09

Cecil

#16 Apr 25, 2011
I too am impressed by the posts related to this topic. Usually Topix degenerates into name calling and worse... See the past Sheriff's election related threads. With that out of the way I think I need to point a few things out. First, there is a tremendous amount of cost cutting still available to CPS that has still not been touched. A simple review of their web page and the administrative section would show how many coaches and administrative assistants are on staff. Let's face some simple inescapable truths about Cecil County's schools. They under perform and under deliver to their students. Graduation rates are pathetic in comparison to much of the state, PA, and Delaware and the rate of students continuing on to four year colleges is anemic. Far too much of the CPS budget is aimed at administrative needs and not on student education. How many coaches does a bad school district need to try and teach their teachers how to teach? How many executive positions are really absolutely required to ensure that kids going to school in Cecilton can actually read and perform simple arithmetic? How many administrative assistants are needed to ensure that Elkton High School Juniors are taking the SAT test to matriculate on to college? Until this county and the residents thereof wake up to the fact that the schools here are spending far too much money on things not central to the education of its students nothing will change. Teachers and administrators in CPS were the only county employees that saw any sort of increase in compensation this year or last year. The failure of the educational system in this county is directly proportional to the increase in crime. Dropouts and semi-literate graduates of the high schools are not work force ready. What do they do when they can't get legitimate work? They burglarize homes and steal from businesses. Is it any wonder that Cecil County's crime rate has continued to increase while most of the state has seen decreases? With the eventual influx of engineers and technicians from the soon to be closed Fort Monmouth living in the county the powers that be need to make some hard decisions... and fast. Does anyone believe that those engineers will send their kids to a Cecil County Schools in their current state? I don't. They will pay for their kids to go to private schools here or in Delaware. Our schools will eventually only serve those without the money or the ability to send their kids to schools that prepare their children to go out into a world that will demand better educated kids than CPS can ever hope to provide.
Crying Foul

Neavitt, MD

#17 Apr 26, 2011
Cecil Avenger,
I suggest going beyond the contact list on the CCPS web site and look at the budget request. Follow the “Operating Budget” link on the left. There is a power point summary as well as the full budget request detail. Also, I would suggest you visit http://mdreportcard.org/ or http://www.mdk12.org/ to evaluate CCPS student performance. Bottom line…………… http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/0... to see that CCPS is ranked 6th in the state in terms of “Education Return on Investment”.

You point out that CCPS employees received increases the past two years, with county employees have not (So? Those increases were more than paid for, in addition to a $1.5 million cut in funding from the county). Again compare – CCPS reduction of 60 employees and revised healthcare benefit plans for a savings of $6.1 million, plus an additional $4.6 million in 2012, vs. the county savings the past two years -$0, request for 2012 additional 14 positions.

The basic question is “Is there justification to reduce the school’s budget request as suggested by the Citizens Advisory Committee?”
Fiscal Interest

Easton, MD

#18 Apr 26, 2011
Why doesn't the County tap into that big fat 12 million dollar rainy day fund instead of making the most important services in the county make the biggest cuts? They could take 3% of that to help off-set the shortfall. Percentage-wise, the County already carries more in their rainy day fund than most other counties.
Crying Foul

Neavitt, MD

#19 Apr 26, 2011
Fiscal Interest,
Good point! The interesting thing about the rainy day fund is it’s based on 7.5% of the operating budget including education. So, of the $12 million,$5.1 million is based on education’s portion of the operating budget. The rainy day fund, plus $3.0 million committed to balance the fiscal 2011 budget make up the portion of the fund balance identified as “Committed”. Add to that an additional $8.3 million “Assigned (potential use specified)” and $10.0 million “Unassigned (no use specified)”.
Fiscal Interest

Easton, MD

#20 Apr 26, 2011
Now that I reread my post, lol, I was referring to 3% of of the 7.5 of the operating budget. I actually thought it was more like 8% for Cecil and its about 5% elsewhere. We could actually take about 4 million from the rainy day fund and put a nice dent in that shortfall! With that, cutting necessary dead weight and a little more accountability for wasteful county spending...we could be set for this year.

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