Taking a waiver off the table

To me, this is a confusing request Rick Pollitt has made. In a letter released today, he told the state to not bother giving Wicomico County a Maintenance of Effort waiver for the next budget year:

Wicomico County Executive Richard M. Pollitt, Jr., announced today that he has notified the Maryland State Board of Education that he is withdrawing the county’s application for a waiver of the Maintenance of Effort (M.O.E.) standard for funding public education for Fiscal Year 2012. Pollitt was to lead a Wicomico County delegation to Baltimore to appeal to the State Board for a waiver on May 24, but the withdrawal negates that presentation. Wicomico is the last of the six counties that initially filed for the waiver to take this action.

In a letter to the State Board, Pollitt said, “Withdrawal of the requested waiver does not indicate that Wicomico County will reach the M.O.E. level of funding in the next fiscal year. In fact, it will not.”

Under normal circumstances, if a county funds its local school system to the level designated as Maintenance of Effort, it receives millions of dollars in new State aid. However, as a reflection of the current state of the economy, no additional State funds are at risk next year for failure to meet M.O.E.

Pollitt noted that there is currently a legal challenge involving the Montgomery County Board of Education and their county government where the Board claims that M.O.E. is mandatory upon the counties and the only way to avoid funding M.O.E. is through the waiver process. “We, along with the Maryland Association of Counties (MACo), are watching that case with a great deal of concern as a ruling favorable to the Montgomery Board could be devastating to county fiscal policy. I believe the major risk to failing M.O.E. is the loss of additional State money. With no new money at stake, the exercise is moot.”

Recently, the Wicomico County Board of Education, by a tie vote, declined to endorse the county’s application for the waiver. Pollitt noted without the support of the local educational community, gaining the waiver would have been unlikely. Pollitt was successful in receiving a waiver last year but then had the support of the local school system.

Pollitt concluded, “providing adequate funding for the superior education of our young people is the most serious challenge we face. While I deeply believe that most Maryland jurisdictions have a strong commitment to do the right thing for our children; the precarious state of the economy, further exacerbated by an antiquated system of public school funding, points to a troubled future for local school funding and I have called on the State Board of Education to join with MACo, local boards of education and the Maryland General Assembly to work vigorously to develop a better plan for funding public schools.”

I suppose I can see the point if the question is moot, but it can’t be determined whether the point is moot until the court decides the Montgomery County case, can it? Perhaps leaving the request in may have been a better move. Sure, there’s no state money at stake – for now.

But more interesting to me is the tie vote at the Board of Education. Since there are seven members of the board, my question is who abstained, who voted to seek the waiver, and who voted against the deal. All I know is that it was a 3-3-1 split.

So apparently our ball is in the court of the court deciding the Montgomery County case. If things don’t go Wicomico’s way we may have another fiscal emergency come up later this year as the county scrambles to cut other areas to feed the beast that is our Board of Education.

Update: I’m told the three “no” votes were Don Fitzgerald, Ron Willey, and Michelle Wright, with Robin Holloway abstaining.

Author: Michael

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