The Howard County Education Association (HCEA) sent the following letter to the Howard County Board of Education (HoCoBOE) regarding the 2021 budget:  https://chaowu.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/County-Funding-Analysis-to-HCPSS1.pdf. This letter was shared by HoCoBOE member Chao Wu on his blog: https://chaowu.org/2020/02/27/hcea-analysis-on-county-budget-2021/. Thank goodness we have a couple of HoCoBOE members that regularly share information with the public and Chao Wu is one of my favorites for that reason.

Without sharing every word in the 8 page letter here (click above to read it all)…here is how it letter starts and the conclusion at the end of the letter:

Dear Chair Ellis and Members of the Board of Education,

It has come to the attention of HCEA leadership that the Board of Education was sent a letter from the County Executive’s office regarding the bleak financial outlook for Howard County that is limiting revenue forecasts and as such may affect the school system budget request. Year after year, our school system is asked to provide more and more services to our students without the corresponding increase in revenues to do so. The lack of resources are impacting our staff, mentally and physically. We are concerned that a lack of recurring revenue increases is having an impact on our ability to attract and retain quality educators, and also our ability to continue to provide the level of services our community expects and our students deserve.

As we advocate at the county level to fulfill your request, to the extent possible, we would like you to consider the following analysis of county contributions on our fiscal outlook and the impact on our staff. Our analysis is based on available data from public budgets and state agencies. Although the county claims to be fiscally restrained, our analysis indicates a much different picture of the county’s fiscal outlook.

and then how it ends…

Conclusion

In FY2019, the previous county executive provided $11.1m in one-time funds to our school system that were used to fund recurring school system needs. This left our current county executive in the position of both finding recurring funds to replenish the one-time funds, and also finding additional funds for continuing needs. Although we are appreciative of his contributions, we cannot continue to meet recurring needs with one-time funds.

Our county is the second wealthiest in our state, and as recently as 2017, we grew at a rate that outpaced neighboring jurisdictions. The county government must now do its part by meeting the expectations of our community, and finding the recurring revenue needed to deliver the services that parents and students demand. Howard County prides itself, and every resident benefits from, the quality education that is provided to our students. The service HCPSS provides continues to take a toll on employees when we must sacrifice positions, programs, and the resources our students’ need. Our county’s wealth is one that has grown because of our public-school system, and not in spite of it. We urge you to do your homework and to advocate for the funding our students deserve.

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I am totally on board with funding our school system to the greatest extent possible…but…

Interesting in the letter that the HCEA does not give any recommendations how they think the county should “fulfill your request, to the extent possible”. Are they advocating for cutting services from other county departments or county funded service providers? Are they advocating for MORE taxes on one of the most taxed areas in the state? It does not say specifically in this letter. But it should in a letter like this that breaks a lot of data down for people to see. Don’t just say FUND US MORE without a recommendation of how the county should do that for the school system.

And let us talk about the information shared…and specifically…the $11+ million provided in “one time” funding noted in the letter. This is my biggest problem in all of the data they provided. The conclusion states “the previous county executive provided $11.1m in one-time funds to our school system that were used to fund recurring school system needs”…the question to HCEA…was that purpose what that money was provided for? The answer (that they do not address in their letter) is no it is not. And the organization knows that fact. As a reminder to everyone…from a press release in 2018 “This includes an $11 million, one-time payment to help address the school system’s shortage in its Health Fund, which provides health benefits.

Also that $11+ million throws off the 2020 numbers…and this organization knows it as well. They provide this chart in the letter:

This chart looks like the county WAY cut or reduced funding for the schools in 2020. But let’s be real…the county gave the schools around a $17 million increase in 2019 plus the one time funding noted above…the county once again gave the schools around a $17 million increase in 2020 (if you remove the “one-time” funding from the equation). This chart is not only misleading but down right wrong to share in this context (my opinion).

Notice how that is not mentioned in the letter? This is playing fast and loose with the real data and information from this organization. An organization I support…just have a problem with letters like this that do not tell the whole or real truth in their advocacy.

Look…support what you think is right for the schools…I get that. If you are for massive tax increases for all residents in this county and state of all income levels of residents (high, middle and low) or massive cuts in other county services or departments to pay for more money in our school system…be that and say that directly. Some do…while others (people and organizations) talk around it.

I have made it very clear where I stand on some of the recommendations provided this year. I think we should also tell the full story about who gets hurt with increasing taxes…not taxes just on the rich…but taxes on everyone.

It is amazing to see those fighting against raising fees on developers or other industries and those fighting it saying it will make it less affordable to live here…while those same people seem to be very quiet on state and local tax increases and additional fees on residents and not mentioning the fact that those things also make it less affordable for people to live here or own a small business in this state.

The County Executive (CE) has been very open and clear that his expectations for next year for new incoming revenue will match that of this year…while the HoCoBOE sent to him a budget increase of around $50 million knowing it will not be fully funded…one of the board members said that as she voted yes on the operating budget request sent forward to the county.

The CE has also shared the current tax burden on residents of all income levels of residents in Howard County as compared to other counties in Maryland:

In this discussion we should talk about all of the information…tell the truth…and not just one side of it.

That is my rant for the morning.

Hope you all have a great weekend.

Scott E

5 COMMENTS

  1. Please view the presentation we gave at the board meeting two days ago (27th) because it actually does address many of your points. The bottom line, HCPSS does not generate revenue and our staff cannot continue to absorb increasing needs with decreasing resources.

  2. The tax rate in the table is out of date. The current rate is $1.320 accounting for the new 6 cent raise in the fire tax.

  3. Also, when looking at other charts in this analysis report — hmmm, since dollars of expenditures are adjusted over years for inflation to help with the thesis, just to be fair, shouldn’t the same be done when talking about county resident’s rise in income? Or am I missing something?

    In other words, it seems that inflation-adjusted data is used when it is convenient to support the HCEA’s thesis, but not used when it lessens their point. Again, perhaps I am missing something. Please correct me if so.

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