Schuh to Boost Anne Arundel School Spending As Part of Health Care Bailout

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.

Read the full article for more information.

Tech Entrepreneur From Baltimore is First Democrat to Enter Md. Governor’s Race

Baltimore nonprofit founder, author and former Obama administration technology adviser Alec Ross on Wednesday became the first in what is expected to be a crowded field of Democrats to enter Maryland’s 2018 gubernatorial race.

As reported by The Washington Post,

The 46-year-old political newcomer declared his candidacy through social media and his campaign website, saying he has the knowledge and experience to prepare the state’s economy for the future.

Courtesy Alec Ross gubernatorial campaign

At least seven other Democrats have said they are considering a 2018 run for governor, including Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III, former Maryland attorney general Douglas F. Gansler, former NAACP executive director Benjamin Jealous, Baltimore County Executive Kevin B. Kamenetz, state Sen. Richard Madaleno (Montgomery), state Del. Maggie McIntosh (Baltimore) and attorney James Shea.

The winner of the Democratic primary is expected to face Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who has said he will run for reelection.

Ross, a Johns Hopkins fellow who served as a technology-policy adviser to Obama’s first presidential campaign and then as tech czar for the U.S. State Department, wrote “The Industries of the Future,” a 2016 nonfiction book that spent two months on the New York Times’ list of business bestsellers.

He graduated from Northwestern University in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in history before joining Teach for America, which assigned him to a tough middle school in Baltimore. His work there was detailed in a three-part series in The Baltimore Sun.

In 2002, Ross founded a nonprofit group that focused on providing low-income and underserved communities with access to high-speed Internet. The organization has since become a multimillion-dollar corporation.

In his book, Ross predicted that five industries would dominate the global economy of the next several decades. They included robotics, cybersecurity, genomics, data analysis and digital currency.

Read the full article for more information.

Get Involved! Apply Now to Be a Part of NACo’s Presidential Committees

Committee leadership and participation are an integral part of the National Association of Counties’ (NACo) mission. Incoming President-elect Roy Charles Brooks encourages you to get involved. In preparation for his presidency, he and NACo are pleased to begin the appointments process. Applications are due June 2, 2017.

President-elect Roy Charles Brooks

These appointments are for:

  • Policy steering committee chairs and vice chairs and subcommittee chairs and vice chairs
  • Large Urban County Caucus (LUCC) and Rural Action Caucus (RAC) chairs, vice chairs and members
  • Standing committee chairs, vice chairs and members
  • Ad hoc committee, task force and advisory board chairs, vice chairs and members
  • At-large NACo board directors

Click here for more information about NACo committees.

To be considered for a presidential appointment to any of the above committees or as an at-large director for the NACo Board of Directors, you MUST complete the application online before June 2, 2017. Appointments will be announced after NACo’s Annual Conference in July.

IMPORTANT:  Steering committee membership is not a part of this application process.

State associations of counties are responsible for nominating policy steering committee members. The online nomination form for policy steering committee membership can be found here.

Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board Briefed on Opioids, Implementation

The Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board held a quarterly meeting on Monday April 24, in Annapolis.

Senator Michael Hough and Delegate Kathleen Dumais shared relevant updates from the 2017 General Assembly session. Hough noted legislation that was amended to avoid mandating Justice Reinvestment funds be spent in a certain way. Dumais discussed bills related to pretrial services that did not pass, but noted grant funding that will be available to local jurisdiction interested in starting a pretrial program.

Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention (GOCCP) Executive Director Glenn Fueston spoke about the state’s Opioid Operational Command Center (OOCC). The OOCC is a multi-disciplinary, data-based team created by the Governor to help coordinate state and county response to the opioid crisis. It is directed by Talbot County Director of Emergency Services Clay Stamp and operates out of Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA). Fueston also briefly updated the Board on the annual report each county must provide on inmates detained in jail awaiting trial. Data included total pretrial detention population, average length of stay, reason for not securing release, primary offense and status of the case.

Webster Ye, Director of Governmental Affairs, and Dr. Barbara Bazron, Deputy Secretary for the Behavioral Health Administration, provided updates from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DHMH). Ye discussed bills relating to opioids that were passed during the session. Included was the Prescriber Limits Act, Start Talking Maryland Act, HOPE Act, as well as bills addressing distribution of controlled dangerous substances, telehealth, recovery residences, prior authorizations for opioid disorder treatment, and coverage requirements for behavioral health services. In response to a question about the burdens faced by the state’s medical examiner office, he noted that the DHMH is working on hiring more examiners.

Bazron shared a presentation on BHA’s progress on §8-505 and §8-507 placements. Under the Justice Reinvestment Act, the department is required to make these placements for individuals court ordered to treatment within 21 days. She noted that the department is adapting their process to meet the placement deadline, which goes into effect July 1. Bazron also discussed how as of FY 2018 residential treatment for substance use disorders, including the §8-507 placements, will be partially Medicaid reimbursable through a federal waiver.

Patricia Goins-Johnson presented on the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS) progress on implementing Justice Reinvestment noting benchmarks that have been met, challenges that have arisen, and work that remains ongoing. Judge Kathleen Cox, Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger, and Public Defender Paul DeWolfe updated the Board on a process being piloted to promote efficiency in the review of mandatory minimum sentence modifications for eligible persons serving time for drug offenses.

Before concluding the meeting it was briefly mentioned that the Justice Reinvestment Local Government Commission has been fully appointed but has not yet met.

The 25 member board, chaired by Judge Daniel M. Long, is charged with overseeing the implementation of the Justice Reinvestment Act (SB 1005), the law passed during the 2016 outlining comprehensive state criminal justice reform. Duties include collecting and analyzing data, creating performance measures, and making recommendations for reinvestment of savings. The board meets quarterly.

For more information about the JRCC visit the GOCCP website.

Previous coverage on Conduit Street:

Justice Reinvestment Oversight Board Begins Work

 

President’s Budget No Boon For Local Infrastructure

Despite much-touted plans for investment in infrastructure, President Trump’s proposed budget only depletes opportunities for Maryland counties to benefit from important transportation funding opportunities.

Transportation for America, an organization advocating for investment in “in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions,” reports that the President’s proposal cuts funding for new transit lines, including the Purple Line. It also eliminates the popular Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program, one of only a few programs which makes Federal transportation funds available directly to counties for specific infrastructure projects. It also terminates funding for long-distance passenger rail lines.

The President’s budget eliminates funding for building new transit lines – presumably including the Purple Line. Transportation for America reports:

This budget eliminates future funding for building new public transportation lines and service, threatening the ability of local communities of all sizes to satisfy the booming demand for well-connected locations served by transit. While the handful of projects with full federal funding grant agreements (FFGAs) already in hand would (theoretically) be allowed to proceed, all other future transit projects would be out of luck. The budget proposes to phase out future funding for what’s called the transit capital investment grants program — more informally referred to as New Starts, Small Starts and Core Capacity grants.

The Purple Line does not yet have its FFGA, placing the project’s projected $900 million in federal funds at grave risk. The FFGA was scheduled to be signed on August 4, 2016, but litigation delayed its execution.  According to the Administration’s budget proposal:

Future investments in new transit projects would be funded by the localities that use and benefit from these localized projects.

The budget also eliminates the TIGER program. The fiercely competitive TIGER program funds innovative projects, including multi-modal projects, which leverage partnerships between multiple jurisdictions and the private sector. The program has brought at least $40 million in federal infrastructure investment to Maryland, including $10 million each for:

  • bus rapid transit along 14 miles of US 29 in Montgomery,
  • multimodal road improvements through the MD 175 Fort Meade Multimodal Accessibility Project in Anne Arundel,
  • Port of Baltimore enhancements including capacity expansion and construction of a rail intermodal facility, and
  • most recently, the North Avenue Rising project, which improves five miles along North Avenue in Baltimore City with dedicated bus lanes, roadway repaving, transit signal priority installation, enhanced bus stops, sidewalk improvements, bike share stations, bike lanes, and a subway station and intersection improvements.

 

The Administration’s budget proposal also cuts funding to Amtrak, and “terminates Federal support for Amtrak’s long distance train services.”

About Transportation for America:

Transportation for America is an alliance of elected, business and civic leaders from communities across the country, united to ensure that states and the federal government step up to invest in smart, homegrown, locally-driven transportation solutions — because these are the investments that hold the key to our future economic prosperity.

U.S. News Ranks Maryland High Schools #1 in Nation

Maryland high schools are the best in the nation, with four ranking among the top 150 in the country, according to a new list from U.S. News & World Report.

The list, published Tuesday morning, ranks more than 2,600 high schools across the country based on state high school proficiency tests, disadvantaged students’ performance on those tests, graduation rate, and then Advanced Placement test data.

As reported in the Baltimore Business Journal,

On a state-by-state level, U.S. News said Maryland schools performed best by their measures, with 5.9 percent of the public schools achieving “Gold Medal” status and 21.6 percent achieving “Silver Medal” status.

Massachusetts actually had the highest percentage of “Gold Medal” schools, with 6.2 percent of its public schools reaching that status, but ended up fifth overall among the states because it had relatively few “Silver Medal” high schools.

After Maryland, rounding out the top five were Florida, California, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

When broken down by individual schools, the state only placed four inside the top 150, all from Montgomery County: Winston Churchill High School (75), Thomas S. Wootton High School (106), Poolesville High (108) and Walter Johnson High School (149).

The highest-ranked high school in Greater Baltimore is Marriotts Ridge High School in Howard County, which came in at 226th on the list. The Baltimore School for the Arts, coming in at 1,276th, was highest among Baltimore City schools.

Nationally, five of the top seven schools are in the Arizona, while Texas landed three schools among the top 10. All five of those Arizona schools are part of the BASIS Schools charter network, which is based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

At the bottom, South Dakota did not allow U.S. News to view Advanced Placement test results, so it’s listed as No. 51. It places behind Nebraska, Mississippi, Wyoming, Iowa and New Mexico, each of which had fewer than 4 percent of schools achieve either “Gold Medal” or “Silver Medal” status.

Read the full article for more information.

Deadline Set for Administration’s Decision in Federal Overtime Lawsuit

A Federal Court of Appeals grants the Trump Administration until June 30th to determine whether to continue defending a lawsuit that challenges an Obama-era regulatory expansion.

A federal court of appeals has granted the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) its third extension in defending a lawsuit challenging new Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime regulations according to the HR Daily Advisor.

tipton
Commissioner Tipton of Mineral County, Nevada testifies in Congress on the new Department of Labor overtime rule.

The National Association of Counties has advocated against the new regulations, with county officials testifying that the costly changes could negatively affect the ability of county governments to provide key services.

As reported by the HR Daily Advisor,

A lower court temporarily enjoined the rule last year and the Obama administration appealed that order. Now, the Trump administration must decide whether to continue with that defense.

Citing lack of leadership—specifically, a secretary of labor—the DOL has now requested and received three delays, giving it until June 30 to make a decision.

 

As described by HR Daily Advisor,

The rule, which was scheduled to take effect December 1, 2016, would have required employers to pay overtime to employees earning less than $913 per week (which amounts to $47,476 annually). The change would have more than doubled the existing threshold.

States and business groups challenged the rule in court and a federal district court judge granted a preliminary injunction, temporarily halting the rules just days before their effective date.

For more information, see 3rd Delay: Trump’s DOL to Address Overtime Rule by June 30 from the HR Daily Advisor.

 

For prior coverage, see these posts on Conduit Street:

Maryland Gets High Scores for Public Health Preparedness

State bests national average in survey ranking preparedness for public health emergencies.

Maryland scored a 7.5 — above the national average of 6.8 — on the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index, a nationwide report designed to “assess preparedness for ‘community health emergencies’.

As reported in The Baltimore Sun:

On a 10-point scale, Maryland rates 7.5 for its efforts to prepare for and respond to such emergencies, according to the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index.

The index is compiled annually by the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to assess preparedness for “community health emergencies.”

The foundation looks at more than 100 measures, such as monitoring food and water safety, flu vaccination rates, and numbers of paramedics and hospitals. The measures are grouped into six categories that are given a ranking on the 10-point scale.

Maryland came in better than the national average of 6.8.

Maryland also outranked most of its neighbors: West Virginia (6.7), the District of Columbia (7.0), Pennsylvania (7.0) and Delaware (7.2). Virginia also scored 7.5.

Vermont scored highest at 7.8, while Alaska ranked as least-prepared with a score of 5.9.

Maryland scored best for the ability to mobilize resources to deal with a health emergency, where the state earned a 9.3.

For more information read The Baltimore Sun and the 2017 National Health Security Preparedness Index.

Rural Maryland Council Announces MAERDAF Call for Proposals – Deadline June 9, 2017

The Rural Maryland Council (RMC) is now accepting proposals for the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF). The deadline to submit a proposal is June 9, 2017. The application process has changed this year. Please see details below.

RMC logoFrom RMC’s announcement:

The Rural Maryland Council is proud to announce for Fiscal Year 2018 the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF) Call for Proposals is now open!

The application process is a little different this year. Phase One of the application process requests a proposal which includes organization information, applicant and project point of contact information, scope of work, and project goals.

Please visit http://rural.maryland.gov/maerdaf_rmpif/ to access instructions, guidelines, and the Call for Proposals form.

Deadline for Call for Proposals is June 9, 2017, 11:59pm.

For Fiscal Year 2018, the RMC is particularly interested in proposals that address the following:  Agriculture, Energy, Rural Broadband, Healthcare, Youth Engagement and Workforce/Economic Development. Regardless, the Grant Review Board will give full consideration to any application that is submitted.

Join them in-person for two in-depth information outreach sessions on our two grant programs, the Maryland Agricultural Education and Rural Development Assistance Fund (MAERDAF) and the Rural Maryland Prosperity Investment Fund (RMPIF), including past recipients, requirements, eligibility and application process.

This is a great opportunity to have your questions answered in a friendly setting prior to embarking on the application process. Plus, lunch will be included! Please be sure to register on their events page here.

If you have any questions, please contact them at 410.841.5772 or rmc.mda@maryland.gov.

Anne Arundel School Board, Unions, Agree to Increase in Drug Copays

As part of an effort to curb health care cost for the Anne Arundel County Public School System, three of the 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.

As reported by The Capital Gazette,

The school system’s health care fund has faced about a $20 million deficit in the past two years. Medical costs rose and the school system has been expanding its staff. Earlier this year, the school system transferred $2 million from a surplus fund to pay for health care. County Executive Steve Schuh also transferred $5 million from the county budget to help pay for health care for school employees and avoid drastic actions, such as furloughs and layoffs.

Schuh and school officials have said they need to shift some costs of the health insurance to employees to make the fund sustainable.

The agreement between the school board, Teachers Association of Anne Arundel County, the Association of Educational Leaders, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees increases copays for preferred prescription drugs to $20 and non-preferred brand prescriptions to $35. Those unions represent teachers, administrators and maintenance workers respectively. Generic drugs will continue to cost $5.

School staff that belong to those three unions now have copays of $15 for preferred brands and $25 for non-preferred brand.

Under the plan, a new tier called specialty prescriptions, which are defined as injectables with the exception of insulin, would have a copay of $50 in 2018, $65 in 2019 and $75 in 2020.

The agreement also allows specialty prescriptions to be redefined after Jan. 1, 2019.

School officials’ effort to curb costs include an agreement with CareFirst that saves the school system $16.9 million over a three-year period, starting in 2018.

County officials are also asking the State Board of Education to allow the county government to make a one-time allocation of $22.5 million for school health care costs for the fiscal year beginning July 1. This would exempt the school system from the state law that requires the level of per-pupil funding in one year to be matched in all subsequent years.

The state agency is expected to respond by the end of the month.

Read the full article for more information.