Cumberland Times-News

Local News

March 12, 2014

Legislation to bring financial relief to some school districts wins vote on Senate floor

CUMBERLAND — A bill that could help school districts facing decreases in state aid because of declining student enrollment, such as Garrett County, has won an important vote on the Senate floor that bodes well for passage in the next few days.

Sen. George Edwards is the Senate sponsor of the bill. Del. Wendell Beitzel is sponsoring the House version. The bill passed on second reading with amendments Monday and will likely come to a final vote in the next day or two. Additional sponsors have also signed on to support the Senate bill. Bills on second reading usually pass on a voice vote. Once the bill passes the Senate, it will move on to the House of Delegates.

The bill mandates the state to supplement shortfalls in the state aid formula. “For fiscal years 2015 through 2017, if a county board’s total direct education aid in the current fiscal year is less than the prior fiscal year, then the state shall provide a grant to the county board equal to 50 percent of the decrease in total direct education aid from the prior fiscal year to the current fiscal year,” according to the language of SB 534.

The state budget provides $1.7 million in aid for affected districts in fiscal 2015, according to a floor report on the bill by the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee.

“Under current law, direct education aid (as defined by the bill) in fiscal 2015 to Garrett and Kent counties will decrease by $928,200 (4.7 percent) and $262,000 (3.0 percent), respectively, a combined decrease of $1,190,200,” according to the Department of Legislative Services.

By mandating the aid for three years, legislators from affected counties will be able to avoid a yearly fight for special appropriations, as they have in the past few years.

A bill to help with the issue was requested by members of the Allegany and Garrett County boards of education at a December meeting with legislators before the General Assembly session began.

Garrett County has lost about 18.5 percent of its budget in the last four years due in part to a loss of student enrollment.

For the last five years Garrett County will have the largest decrease in student enrollment, in terms of a percentage loss, across the state, Larry McKenzie, director of finance for the Garrett school system, said recently. Since 2009, the‚ÄąGarrett board has lost $4.5 million and is anticipating losing $1.5 million this year.

The enrollment loss in Allegany County has plateaued, schools officials have said.

Allegany County has lost almost $12 million in state funding since 2009, which is 15 percent of the board’s budget, county school officials said.

Matthew Bieniek can be contacted at mbieniek@times-news.com

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