Md. Gov Asks Superintendents to Scour for Savings

By Brian Witte | October 20, 2009 | 3:19 PM EDT
Annapolis, Md. (AP) - With an ominous budget challenge looming again, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley called on school superintendents Tuesday to work together in hunting for ways to save money.
O'Malley largely has protected education from budget cuts since he took office in 2007, but he put superintendents on notice during a meeting in Annapolis that he needs their help to battle a staggering $2 billion shortfall next year in the state's $13 billion operational budget.
"There's nothing that focuses the mind like our own execution, is there? So I want you to really get focused on ways that we can do things together that we can save money, because we're going to need every innovation, every cooperation, every coordination that we can possibly muster, and there's no better time to do it than right now," O'Malley said.
O'Malley, a Democrat, urged superintendents to search for ways to save money in school construction by using standard designs for facilities instead of starting from scratch.
"I'd like you to come up with a way that we can stretch our school construction dollars further by having some standard designs, and I know that that might mean that we don't get the cupola on the top of our school that makes our school unique," the governor said.
O'Malley suggested that schools save money by purchasing furniture from Maryland Correctional Enterprises, the prison industry arm of the Maryland Division of Correction that puts prisoners to work building furniture.
The governor also asked superintendents to join together in procurements for other things, such as light bulbs, janitorial services and text books, to help keep costs down. Another recommendation from O'Malley included the development of solar panels on school roofs.
O'Malley, who must submit a budget for the next fiscal year in January, also said he was hopeful the federal government will consider extending favorable matching rates for Medicaid that were part of the federal stimulus measure to help states as the economy recovers.
"I just think that common sense tells you that if parts of our economy as large as the states of California and New York are about to slip into the ocean that Congress will act and do something about that," O'Malley told reporters after the meeting.
O'Malley will be bringing roughly $290 million in spending reductions to the Board of Public Works next month to help balance this year's books. It will be the seventh time he will have brought cuts to the board to make midyear spending adjustments due to the recession. O'Malley made $736 million in cuts through the board in the first two months of the fiscal year that began in July, reductions that resulted in about 200 layoffs.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller also pointed out the size and ramifications of next year's shortfall to the superintendents, telling them bluntly that education is going to have to absorb some of the coming fiscal pain.
"Now what does that mean for you? That means you're going to have to start taking a portion of the hit," Miller, D-Calvert, said.
Miller also said he didn't believe the state could continue paying the entire cost of teacher pensions, a cost that is approaching $1 billion a year and an amount Miller described as "not sustainable."
Miller proposed shifting the cost of pensions for new teachers to the counties in the last legislative session, but the idea did not gain traction.
"It increased by 60 percent in the last five years," Miller said of the pension costs. "So we're going to have to find a compromise in that area. There is no question about it. It's going to have to be adjusted."
With an ominous budget challenge looming again, Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley called on school superintendents Tuesday to work together in hunting for ways to save money.