Personal Budget Testimony for 2021 County Operating Budget

2020-3-30 Howard County Budget Testimony

My name is Chao Wu. I am a member of Howard County Board of Education.  

Before I begin my testimony, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to our County Executive Dr. Ball who has worked with the school board to develop a solid plan to address the historical health fund deficit issue.  My family and I, along with all Howard County residents, also appreciate very much our county government’s tremendous effort in addressing the coronavirus crisis. Unfortunately this epidemic will most likely incur additional pressure on the county’s budget for next year. 

The board is united in our commitment to bring down the health fund deficit with a clear path and vision. However, I am here today to testify not as a board member but as a parent. 

First, I would like to point out that without extra money coming into HCPSS, it would be extremely difficult in keeping class size small, paying teachers well, improving special education and maintaining academic excellence. 

HCPSS is in a crisis mode where schools are overcrowded, buildings lack maintenance and resources are needed everywhere in the school system. The recent need on Technology also highlights our long-term underfunding issue in this aspect. HCPSS has a 500 million deferred maintenance list and many large capital  projects : High School 13, Hammond High, Talbott Spring Elementary, and Turf Valley Elementary, Dunloggin Middle. The list can also go on and on. When HS 13 opens in 2023, we will probably need another extra 10 million dollars for its operating cost.

Second, with the HCPSS budget crisis, I believe our county government should not operate as business as usual. In my opinion, the county budget needs to shift its priority to the education of our children. The county needs to shrink its spending in some other areas and increase the share of spending for HCPSS.  

I ask the county to have a thorough cost and benefit analysis for each project. We need to differentiate the Needs and the Wants. There are several big projects that in my opinion belong to the category of Wants. They are ranging from 15 million dollars, to 60 millions, 80 million dollars, even to more than 100 million dollars in the county’s budget book now and in the future.  

In addition, since public libraries in the digital age will have less physical books, their space could be used as a community center for our kids, parents, seniors and community groups. To save cost, the relocation and rebuilding of the central library, or any future library renovations should be incorporated with a community center concept, vice verse. I would also suggest that the county could collaborate with Columbia Association or other partners to offer services for our residents instead of building our own facilities.

At the same time, please slow down residential development since our school capacity could not catch up with the pace of the rapid development. I sincerely hope the county government and the county council eventually find the balance on this most pressing developmental issue our county is facing now.

Our school system is one of the greatest assets for our county. With ever growing budget constraints, we would not be able to keep our renowned world class high education standard. The school system’s reputation is the single most important factor that Howard County is able to keep attracting more families to move here. About 41% of our county revenue comes from property tax and 49% of it comes from personal income. If these two revenues drop because of the deterioration of the school system, our tax base will decrease and eventually everybody will suffer.   

Howard County is at a critical moment. Our school’s good reputation is on the life line now. If it starts going downwards, it would be very difficult to reverse the trend. We have witnessed this alarming pattern in some neighboring counties. We need to work very hard to avoid this disaster happening in Howard County. 

Please invest in our County’s future! Please invest in our school system!

Thank you.

My board member report on 2020-03-26

My Board Member report for today’s virtual board meeting

(revised for publication here):

This is a difficult moment which we have never faced before. Everyone is putting their effort to mitigate the current difficult situation. We don’t even know when this coronavirus emergency will end. My school visits have been on hold for two weeks now. I appreciate that the board receives daily update from the superintendent and his staff.

The plan presented by the superintendent last night was the school’s first step. It is not perfect. I am hoping we will be able to work together to improve this plan and make sure our students are taken care of and everyone in the community stays safe.

I am looking forward to a simple, limited structured instruction plan for our students before we have a fully developed plan. We can not wait for another four weeks. We can have a relatively structured curriculum and routine for students every day of the week, one for the morning and one for the afternoon, with much longer recess time and lunch time. This will be very helpful for many students and parents. Our students love our teachers and they want to hear from their teachers.

I don’t expect the online education will be the same as classroom education. We will not be able to serve every student as usual during this difficult time in our nation. We are not able even to offer PE class now.

So we need adapt to the new situation quickly. There will be up/downs during the process, as long as we can implement, correct and improve. This is also an opportunity to develop our future education model, incorporating online teaching and classroom teaching.

For the current plan, I am very concerned about the 25 thousands ES students who need to wait to the end of the second closure period. I am also concerned about the HS seniors facing graduation, special education kids needing intervention programs, kids from low income families getting the necessary help.

Let’s stay calm and work together through this difficult time. Stay safe. Thanks.

Howard County Housing Projection

Here is the presentation from the County Government, talking about three phases of APFO history, how housing units have been allocated by different regions, how the general plan is playing a role in it. We are going to have a new Howard County General Plan very soon.

I hope this new Howard County General Plan will balance growth, affordable housing, school capacity, infrastructure and sustainability much better. The county has very few land left (9%) for new development. Revitalization of some old village centers are as important as developing on new land.

Here is the presentation for your reference.

Columbia Development Tracker 2020-02

The document is developed by Columbia Association. I used to update the community pretty often on this when I was on CA board. Tonight I took a look and found many new development changes. https://www.columbiaassociation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/vers-2-Development-Tracker-February-2020.pdf

There are several big developments:

  1. Dorsey Overlook development has 82 units. I thought it was originally designed for 55+ community. Now it did not mention that.
  2. Columbia Downtown development asks for extra 300 units.
  3. Erickson Senior Living rezones 62.116 acres from B-2 & RC-DEO to CEF-M.
  4. Robinson Overlook moderate incoming housing (48 units) keeps moving on.
  5. River Hill Square ( River Hill Garden Center) submitted a commercial variance request to reduce the setback from a residential district from 30 feet to 0 feet.

HCPSS opinion on Blueprint for Maryland Future ( Kirwan commission)

This is the letter from HCPSS superintendent Dr. Martirano to our senators on the Blueprint for Maryland Future legislation (Senate Bill SB1000/House Bill HB1300). The full letter is attached here.

The letter talked about good side of the legislation:

There are more challenges laying ahead.

Challenges Specific to Howard County: Lack of Local aid increase/budget pressures

  • Local funding for teacher salary increases
  • Salary increases for Non-Teachers
  • Dual Enrollment costs
  • Administrative costs

Broader Implementation Challenges

  • Budgeting and reporting
  • Career Ladder Implementation
  • Early Childhood Education
  • College and Career Readiness
  • Accountability and Oversight

Revisiting 2020 Howard County Budget

I spent some time tonight and examined 2020 Howard County Operating Budget, including HCPSS, Howard Community College and others. Only HCPSS and HCC have a separate budget. Others are inside the county budget book. I would encourage our residents spending some time to read them. It will help us where to advocate and how to advocate. For example, maybe the county can have a different funding priority considering the problem HCPSS is facing now. Many parents come to Howard County for education and we should not let them lose faith in HCPSS.

Here is the FY 2020 approved Howard County Operating Budget.

Here is the FY 2020 approved HCPSS Operating budget

Here is the FY 2020 approved Howard Community College Operating budget.

HCPSS parochial bus issue

The board approved to keep the parochial bus in the budget and sent it to the county executive. This budget is a separate line item. We could not just move it to another area and spend it.

I have asked our staff to have a cost-benefit analysis for this. For example, if the buses are cancelled, how many students who are attending private schools will come back to HCPSS? How many students have a special need? Which schools will they attend? How much money does HCPSS spend? This 800k spending will probably come back for discussion when the county executive sends us back the budget.

Attached please see the a State Law passed in 1943. It says:

The attached file includes both texts and a letter from Attorney General of MD in 1995.

Comments on BOE budget discussion

HCPSS is asking 7.2% funding increase from last year’s budget, plus one time funding (6 million) request to narrow down the historical health fund deficit from the county government.

HCPSS is at the receiving end of the budget. With limited money allocated into HCPSS and the high possibility that the county may not fund this 7.2% funding increase request, we have to juggle around different programs and different priorities. If HCPSS does not get this number or get a substantially lower percentage than the request, further proposed changes of HCPSS program will happen, painfully and unfortunately. 

The board has received many emails about “do not cut”. Parents do not  like class size increase. They want to have special education fully funded,  and have our GT programs and music programs enhanced. I also think we should hire more teachers, paraeducators, counselors, ,psychologists, nurses, health assistants, etc., to support our students and our teachers and staff. And we should have more liaisons to support our parents to connect with the school. There is a long list with many wants. 

However, it is extremely difficult to find a balance among so many priorities in the school. It may have negative consequences on some of students, teachers or staff. For example, increasing class size will bring more pressure to the classroom. Reshaping some programs may impact some staff. 

If any program changes have to happen, I will focus on the programs which are relatively easier to be restored if more funding becomes available. For example, class size change can be restored if the money comes. It happened last year. Surplassing teachers or cutting programs should be the last resort. I will continue to ask to streamline our central office and consolidate services to reduce cost. I want to put our resources in the classroom while maintaining a functional school system. 

However, the reality is very challenging. Because of many years’ underfunding for HCPSS, we are at a crossroad to keep a prestigious HCPSS education system. The whole county needs to  work together, and re-orient county priority and put more resources into the school system. 

Parents, please do your best to advocate on behalf of our kids’ education at the county government budget session and the county council budget session. 

Elected county officials, please examine the county budget and see where some county programs can be scaled back at this difficult time and have the fund repurposed to HCPSS. 

Thank you. 

County Executive 2021 budget Public Hearing

Time: Thursday, March 12, 2020

County Executive will submit Proposed Budget to County Council on April 20, 2020. This is a critical date for HCPSS FY 2021 operating budget.

County Council 2021 budget public hearing

Wednesday, April 22, 2020,

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Monday, May 11, 2020

The County Council will adapt their budget on Friday, May 22, 2020.

The Board of Education will adopt the budget on Thursday, May 28, 2020.

HCPSS Health fund deficit elimination plan in action

I am glad that we now have a plan to eliminate the health fund deficit by 2024. HCPSS and the county government are working together to address this historical health fund deficit. We need execute this elimination plan truthfully. We need make sure we are not adding extra deficit into the current health fund each year. Here are two documents: one from the county executive and one from HCPSS.

2020 OBRC Presentation before the BOE

Here is the BOE operating budget review committee (OBRC) recommendation on the budget and others. Four recommendations by a majority vote:

The OBRC would like the Board to review the HCPSS plan that will address the cost of deferred maintenance (FY18, 19 & 20 OBRC recommendations).

The OBRC recommends that the Board of Education direct HCPSS to use an independent, third party consultant to identify and analyze options and alternative health fund plans used by other school systems, including school systems in Maryland. These options and alternatives should include potential cost savings that HCPSS may wish to consider

OBRC made a motion to elevate from the OBRC FY20 list of recommendations. ‘Develop a formula to finance BSAP, Hispanic Achievement and International Student Support based on Maintenance of Effort’.

OBRC requests HCPSS provide the following analysis specifying the underlying assumptions (identifying the money sources) and denoting the reference documents that were used for the calculations.

Here is the report in PDF format.

HCPSS 2020 Risk Assessment Report

Here is the risk assessment report from David Clark, HCPSS Internal Auditor. High risk areas by alphabetical order:

  • Bus driver shortage
  • Cash reserves
  • Classroom technology and aging infrastructure
  • Deferred maintenance
  • Health fund deficit
  • IT security
  • Mental Health
  • Overcrowding
  • Performance gap
  • Program and resource cuts
  • Regional special education and early childhood programs
  • Special education
  • Staff shortages
  • Teacher absenteeism and staff shortage
  • Teacher development

Frankly this is a long list, especially during our difficult budget discussion. Here is the full report.

2020 CA Scholarship Application starts

For more than 25 years, Columbia Association (CA) has been recognizing high school seniors for outstanding service to their community. Up to six $2,500 scholarships will be awarded to graduating seniors from local high schools who have shown a history of providing community service to benefit Columbia residents and those in the Columbia area.

For details, eligibility requirements and application, go to ColumbiaAssociation.org/scholarship. Completed applications must be submitted by March 15.