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January 13, 2014

Promises Made, Promises Unkept

Cindy A. Rose

The kick off to the 2014-2015 Frederick County Public Schools budget propaganda season has official begun. Let the guilting, intimidation, misrepresentation, fudging, obfuscation, manipulation and sidestepping begin.


I’m going to start off by wagging an accusatory finger at Dr. Theresa Alban for always portraying Frederick County Public Schools as the victims of funding. I know the “It can’t possibly be my/our fault” is the national tone, but let’s be leaders, not followers.


Agreed that we have to implement mandates that cost money, often millions of dollars we could put to use elsewhere. However, we started off this budget season needing an extra $20,000,000 we should never have needed.


Why $20,000,000? Lest anyone forget in July of last year four of our Board of Education members voted to raid Other Post Employment Benefits (OPEB, retirement benefits) of $10,283,387 so it could increase staff salaries. It was argued by our more fiscally responsible Board members, Brad Young and April Miller, that those monies should be left to pay for the promises made to retirees.


In essence what the Board of Education did was take from Peter’s one-time, limited savings to pay Paul’s recurring yearly wages. Not just that, they had no plan to repay Peter and make him whole again; or to continually fund Paul’s recurring, yearly need. There was no known funding source other than “hoping” the Board of County Commissioners could be bullied into fixing the financial fiasco created by these four: Jean Smith, Joy Schaffer, Katie Groth and Zakir Bengali.


So, Frederick County Public Schools is not only in the position of being $10,283,387 short in the OPEB fund, but they need another $10,283,387 to fund the new, recurring, wage obligations. Before any other need is funded, the Board of Education needs $20,566,774 just to get us back to ground zero. How’s that for financial responsibility?


Let’s not kid ourselves. As long as the majority of this board are the above referenced four members, I doubt OPEB will see its $10 million any time soon. The public and our school system retirees should be appalled and outraged. If anyone needs a public redress and guilt, it’s the Board of Education, not the Board of County Commissioners.


So, Dr. Alban’s new proposed budget of $550.1 million for Fiscal 2015 (which begins July 1, will use $10 million – not for new items and expenses – but to cover a promise made for salaries by using money it didn’t have. Not only did the board not have it, the members took it from a promise made elsewhere.


Which brings me to the current campaign of rallying the public around the “Promise” of a public education.


Doesn’t that promise include keeping promises made to retirees and taxpayers? What about the promise made to voters to be financially responsible? Eighty-six percent of our budget is going to wages and benefits – Wages and Benefits. Get that? Before one penny reaches a child, an education program, teacher supplies, school supplies or a piece of technology, it’s going to wages and benefits. (But not the benefits of retirees.)


Wages and benefits keep growing while monies to the students keep decreasing. Threats are made yearly to take from students so parents will be outraged. Parents are encouraged to be pitted against the Board of County Commissioners. Any increases gained inflate…..yep…..wages and benefits.


Before you disagree, you better go back to past budgets and take note that even in years when “raises” weren’t given, they went up. Why? Some because new people were hired, but also because of degrees earned and changes in positions. Sally makes $X in position A, if she moves to position B she will earn $Y. That’s not a raise, that’s a position shift and does not have to be reported as a raise. John earns $A, but if he earns a degree he gets a “bump” up to $Q. Again, not technically a raise even though he is now earning more money.


It’s a complicated dance and our school system always hopes you’ll get frustrated and won’t dig into the steps. You’ll just trust them because, well, they have the best interest of the children in mind. You’re confusing Frederick County Public Schools with your local schools and teachers – STOP doing that!


I will also wag the finger of condemnation at Dr. Alban for using the talents of our children as a propaganda tool to incite the public to brow beat our Board of County Commissioners.


Year after year, no matter who is at the helm, Frederick County Public Schools portrays our students, teachers and their education as victims of the lack of funding from the Board of County Commissioners. If they are victims, they are victims of the choices made within the walls of Frederick County Public Schools. The school system, not the commissioners, decides “how” the dollars are spent, and there are plenty of them.


Year after year we are told the increases are to retain quality teachers. We already do that. Doesn’t our school system report year after year we are the #1 school system?


The other mantra is the money is needed for the students. When was the last time student fees were decreased? Why are our students paying to play sports and music in their own schools when we keep getting more and more funding?


Open your eyes, the budget has never decreased; yet “student” centered items decrease.


Ask yourselves honestly. Is this the fault of not enough funding in Maintenance of Effort (MOE), or is it mismanagement of the hundreds of millions of dollars given yearly to Frederick County Public Schools?



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