County Executive Steve Schuh plans to permanently increase funding for Anne Arundel County schools struggling health care fund, combined with a one-time $22.5 million to prevent a deficit starting July 1 and pay raises for school staff.
Schuh discussed the aggressive plan to increase school spending with The Capital Tuesday afternoon, just a day after the Maryland State Department of Education granted a waiver for the $22.5 million bail out of the fund. The waiver exempted the county from state law that requires all increased funding to be recurring.
As reported by The Capital Gazette,
“The one-time money just buys you time. It just pushes the day of reckoning,” Schuh said.
Anne Arundel County government received a similar waiver last year for $10 million for county schools’ health care fund.
County officials plan to unveil a two-year plan Thursday they hope will stabilize the health care fund, which is expected to run about $20 million in the red for the second consecutive year. School staff attribute the deficit to rising health cost and increasing school staff.
The executive said those unions must help bring health care expenses in line with revenue by paying a greater portion of the costs. Unions for teachers, administrators, maintenance workers and secretaries are negotiating with the county Board of Education on cost sharing for office visits, laboratory tests, emergency visits and other medical treatment.
“That’s the next big phase,” said Alex Szachnowicz, chief operating officer for county schools.
Bill Jones, executive director of the Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, said teachers will have to pay more for health care. The conflict is over “how deep” the concessions will be, he said.
Last week, three schools unions agreed to increases in copays for some prescriptions drugs to save the school system about $400,000. The three-year agreement starts in 2018. The school system also negotiated a deal with CareFirst that would save them$16.9 million from 2018 to 2020.
The school system struggled to keep up with monthly medical payments. Earlier this year, school officials transferred $2 million from a surplus fund to pay for health care. Schuh also transferred $5 million from the county budget to help pay for health care this fiscal year to avoid drastic actions, such as furloughs and layoffs. .
County Council member Chris Trumbauer, D-Annapolis, said increasing teacher pay will mitigate the pay loss of shifting health care costs to teachers.
“We’re also not asking teachers to take one step forward and two steps back,” he said.
But county government won’t be able to meet some county and school needs in the budget set to be unveiled next week so it can pay for health care.
“It means fewer police, fire fighters, less pay increases, fewer bike trials, less for parks…” Schuh said.
Schuh said the state waiver freed him to fund both school staff raises and the health care fund.
“We avoided a major disaster,” he said.
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