On Sept. 26, it was announced by Howard County Public School System Superintendent, Dr. Michael Martirano, that rather than the system’s healthcare deficit increasing to $50 million as predicted, it only reached $37 million for the close of the 2017-2018 fiscal year. This was $13.5 million less than expected. This marks the start of solving a problem that has been around for over a year now, which has members of the HCPSS staff hopeful for the future.
The deficit, which refers to an insufficient amount of money in a budget, has been around since 2011, when money that was supposed to go to replenishing the healthcare budget was allocated to other expenses such as a county-wide pre-kindergarten and increasing salaries. This led to an imbalance in the system’s healthcare budget that was damaging the school system’s finances and was projected to increase as the years went on, eventually reaching $50 million in 2018.
On May 2, 2017, when Dr. Martirano became HCPSS Superintendent, he immediately noticed that there was an underfunding in the healthcare budget, leading to a deficit of $22 million.
When asked how he reacted, Dr. Martirano stated that his priorities include protecting the classrooms, ensuring the availability of money for teachers’ raises, and having a fully-funded healthcare budget.
“It’s an obligation,” Dr. Martirano explained. “I can’t shift that. I can’t ignore a problem like this. I had to confront the issue head-on.”
Acknowledging the importance of such an issue, Martirano brought his concerns forward to the Howard County Council, the administration governing Howard County.
The Superintendent cited Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman as being “extremely instrumental” in helping the school system decrease the deficit. Kittleman, along with the Howard County Council, gave additional funding to pay out the healthcare deficit. However, more had to be done in order to reduce the situation.
Additional financial measures taken to address the deficit were a $2.5 million rebate, the freezing of certain spending accounts, and using saved money, which led to $5 million being saved. They then cut $19 million from operating expenses to fund the 2019 school year. It was through these methods that the school system was able to prevent the deficit from reaching disastrous levels that would have ruined the stability of the school system’s financial security.
Dr. Martirano wished to emphasize the importance of solving the issue with the deficit. “No school system should ever have a deficit. Ever. We have to account for every dollar earned and every dollar spent,” he said.
While not directly affected by the deficit, students of Howard County still had words to say about Dr. Maritrano’s efforts to reduce the deficit.
Mt. Hebron junior Isabel Torsiello said that she’s “glad that he’s trying to help solve this problem. Giving money, even if it’s a small amount, is really good. Even though the budget doesn’t have all the money it needs, it’s at least a start.”
Whether or not the issue of the deficit will truly pass is uncertain, but through the hard work of Dr. Martirano, Kittleman, and the Howard County Council, the problem has at least shrunk, showing that it is possible to end this budgeting problem and provide the school system with the money necessary to maintain a stable healthcare budget.
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