Kirwan Formula Workgroup: Brief Updates, But No Public Progress on Costs, Formulas

The Formula Funding workgroup meeting for September 19 was shortened to only 90 minutes, and ended with a contested decision to enter closed-door “executive session.”

With only two meetings left on its public calendar, the Formula Funding Workgroup constituted beneath the full Kirwan Commission, was expected to develop and discuss substantive policy options at its September 18th meeting. That expectation was reframed by a schedule change (the day before) – where the public workgroup meeting was abridged to only 90 minutes, and the group announced its intention to continue discussions in a closed session.

Two Policy Updates

The Workgroup heard from the Department of Legislative Services, with an explanation of how teacher pensions are funded. The recent history included an explanation of the nearly $300 million in annual costs that were shifted from state to local funds beginning in FY 2013. The discussion centered on the state pension costs becoming “unsustainable,” despite being driven largely by a state-legislative ramp-up in school funding following the Thornton legislation in the years prior.

The DLS presentation showed the difference between normal costs (triggered by current employees and their expected retirement obligations) and those brought about by system underfunded status (which would be unaffected by new teacher hires. DLS said that the Kirwan’s plan for increased teacher salaries (well beyond those actuarially forecasted by the state pension system) would likely generate added unfunded liability to the system, but without a reliable model to estimate those effects, they were unable to create a fiscal estimate of the change.

The costs of new hires, generating additional normal costs, would under current law be a responsibility of the local school systems.

See the teacher pensions presentation document online.

The Workgroup also heard from the professional consultants from Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates, who described the teacher career ladder model, and the various assumptions embedded within that structure. Workgroup members asked questions about uncertainties in those projections, and the group seemingly opened the door to a phase-in of some credentialing requirements beyond the ten year framework originally contemplated.

See two documents from the presentation on teacher career paths:

Maryland Career Ladder for Educators

National Board Assumptions for the Maryland Career Ladder Cost Model

Budget Secretary David Brinkley objects to the “closed door” session. Photo courtesy of Maryland Matters

As these presentations closed, the meeting had reached its scheduled ending time, and Chair Kirwan indicated he sought a vote to enter an “executive session,” without public access, to continue conversations on potential policy options. From coverage in the Baltimore Sun comes the stated rationale:

Former University System of Maryland Chancellor William “Brit” Kirwan, who is chairman of the commission, said the closed session was necessary so the workgroup could consider many options and not confuse the public over proposals that will never be adopted. He said Democratic state Attorney General Brian Frosh approved the closed session because the workgroup is not technically a public body.

“We are in a very early stage,” Kirwan said. “We will be putting models out there to see how the formulas will work. I personally think it would be a disservice to the public to see numbers that will have no real meaning. It would be very confusing. People will get all excited or upset over information that will never come to be.”

From coverage on Maryland Matters:

The move to closed session was opposed most vociferously by state Budget Secretary David R. Brinkley, who has also raised concerns about the education reform proposals that could cost up to $3.8 billion more annually once fully in place.

Brinkley said the workgroup was undeniably a public body and should be governed by Maryland’s Open Meetings Act, which restricts closed sessions to certain topics such as litigation or personnel matters.

However, the workgroup and commission chairman, William E. “Brit” Kirwan, as well as legislative staff said the workgroup does not fall specifically under the Open Meetings Act because it was not created by an act of the General Assembly. The broader commission, which was created by a bill, is governed by the act.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, also President of MACo, indicated his interest in sharing materials from such a work session with staff for constructive input. He was told that the materials would not be shared for dissemination outside the meeting, but he was free to share “what he gleans” from the discussion as appropriate.

Visit the Kirwan Commission website for all meeting agendas, materials, and video archives.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties