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.