County To Pay School Increase

Leopold Withdraws Request For Exemption From State Law

April 26, 2009|By Tyeesha Dixon | Tyeesha Dixon,tyeesha.dixon@baltsun.com

County Executive John R. Leopold has withdrawn his request for the state to waive a requirement for the county to pay up to an additional $9 million in funding for public schools next fiscal year.

The state's "maintenance of effort" law requires local governments to increase spending on schools each year to qualify for state education funding. The state allowed the jurisdictions to request a waiver to that requirement by March 31.

Leopold, along with county council Chairman Edward R. Reilly, submitted a letter to State Board of Education President James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr. at the end of March explaining that funding the maintenance of effort could "seriously impair" other county services.

Anne Arundel was one of eight counties in Maryland to request a waiver, according to the state Department of Education.

"We had to take action based on all the information we had on that date to maintain the maximum amount of flexibility for our budget," Leopold said, adding that a couple of weeks after making the request, the county learned that the "revenue picture wasn't as dark" as previously anticipated.

"The fact that the revenue picture had brightened somewhat was enough to allow me to fund maintenance of effort," Leopold said.

"The cuts from the state weren't as deep as we had anticipated."

In the letter to DeGraffenreidt, Leopold said that rescinding the waiver was a "very difficult exercise in fiscal management," requiring him to use $16.5 million from the county's "rainy day" fund in the current fiscal year.

"For fiscal year 2010, in order to meet the maintenance of effort requirement and provide minimum funding for essential public safety services, I am forced to temporarily suspend my efforts to pre-fund the long-term liability of the retiree health insurance benefit, and make significant reductions in expenditures for the balance of county services," the letter reads. Leopold also noted that he had been reluctant to ask for the waiver, as he was lead sponsor of the 1986 state statue that strengthened the maintenance of effort requirement for local jurisdictions.

Schools Superintendent Kevin M. Maxwell, who opposed the waiver, called the withdrawn request "good news for the children of Anne Arundel County."

"We appreciate the county executive's close examination of revenue projections and willingness to withdraw his maintenance of effort waiver request," Maxwell said in a statement. "There are significant financial challenges and very difficult decisions that remain for both the County and the school system, but we remain committed to working with the county executive and his administration to confront those challenges in a way that is the most beneficial for all concerned."

Tim Mennuti, president of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said the move shows Leopold's "flexibility in dealing with our current financial challenges."

"TAAC appreciates the county executive's continuing effort to make the most of scarce resources," Mennuti said in a statement.

Leopold, who is to present his budget Friday, said the county still faces fiscal constraints but added that "the budget is a result of shared sacrifice by all the departments of government.

"These are still extremely challenging times," he said.

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