Cumberland Times-News

March 28, 2013

War continues between board and commissioners Focus of budget hearing was on school security

Matthew Bieniek
Cumberland Times-News

— CUMBERLAND — The contentious relationship between Allegany County commissioners and the county’s board of education flared up during a budget hearing Thursday afternoon at county offices on Kelly Road.

The discussion turned particularly sharp when the board requested a supplemental security grant of up to $500,000.

“You have five elected officials on the board of education responsible for security in the schools. We reserve the right to do that,” said Edward Root, board president.

Commission President Michael McKay did not agree and said any security funding would “follow” the chief elected law enforcement officer of the county, Sheriff Craig Robertson.

The funding request would pay for school resource officers, probably retired or off-duty police, and mental health screenings and intervention for troubled students, board members said.

The whole discussion centered on the disagreement about who is responsible for school security.

Board members said they had no issues working with law enforcement, but that they are ultimately responsible for security in the schools.

McKay, in particular, disagreed.

Board of education members said they are required by law to have a security plan for each school.

The discussion, scheduled for 15 minutes, lasted nearly an hour.

“I want to make it very clear that the board of education is going to have its own security plan ... and we’re going to implement it,” Root said.

Root said there has been tremendous cooperation be-tween the board and law enforcement at every level.

Board Vice President Laurie Marchini challenged McKay directly after he said the board’s supplemental request, while outside maintenence of effort funding, was “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” By being requested outside of maintenance of effort funding, that particular funding would not increase the county’s minimum funding to the board of education in subsequent years.

“That’s exactly what you wanted us to do,” Marchini said, referring to a discussion with McKay at a previous school board meeting. “So why this now? We are asking for the same security you have in this building.”

There is usually an officer or staff member stationed inside the front door of the county building, and to enter the main portion of the offices, people must be buzzed in by that person.

“This is not a political issue; let’s not make it one,” said board member Mike Llewellyn, when commission members emphasized the costs of the school security request. “These are legitimate concerns, work with us on this.”

Root agreed, “I don’t want to make the safety of children a political issue.”

County Commissioner Bill Valentine said that “education,” in particular, the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, has helped to defeat bills in Annapolis that might have aided in providing school resource officers.

Board members did not dispute that the state organizations had opposed the measures, but said they were not consulted by various state organizations opposing the bill.

Root said that more importantly for the discussion, the funding for those bills would have been taken from instructional funding. The ideas were not opposed, but the funding mechanism was, said Root.

“MABE’s opposition is because this bill did not expand funding. It designates existing state funding. The Bridge to Excellence legislation is funded by a dollar amount per student and multiplied by the number of students. In short, Allegany County would have still received $74 million in state funding.

“It would have been required to spend some amount of that on school security and the local board would have been forced to cut its budget in other places or ask county government to fund the difference,” said Randall Bittinger, the school system’s chief financial officer.

 Contact Matthew Bieniek at mbieniek@times-news.com.