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School Budget Terminology

Jargon makes me crazy–mostly because it causes miscommunication if all parties in the conversation don’t understand the terms being used.

Sometimes there’s no way around it so I want to explain some concepts so we’re all on the same page.

In order to understand the Cecil County Public Schools budget or any governmental budget for that matter, it helps to know a few terms (I apologize in advance to anyone with expertise in finance and accounting. The definitions below are for the “rest of us.”):

  • Operating budget
    • Funding for the day-to-day functioning of the school system, including salaries and benefits, utilities, transportation, and instructional materials like books
  • Capital budget
    • Small capital–Funding for projects like systems upgrades that are too expensive to be covered in the operating budget and are generally only funded by the county.
    • Large capital–Funding for major renovations and construction projects where the total cost is shared between the county and state.
  • Fund balance–Money remaining in the operating budget after all other expenses have been met.

Let me add one more term to our list:

  • Maintenance of effort (MOE)
    • A Maryland law that requires each county to provide at least as much funding per student as was provided in the prior year. Originally established in 1984 and updated several times since then, the law sets the minimum¬†funding a county can provide to its school system. MOE is not a funding formula for an adequate school system. In fact, the state of Maryland has formed a commission to determine appropriate formulas for education funding because the current formula has been deemed to be insufficient. (Called the Kirwan Commission, no recommendations for funding have yet been made.)

I need to make this clear–funding a school system at maintenance of effort is the budgetary equivalent of the much-maligned participation trophy. In fact, state approval is required to fund below MOE.

No one funding at maintenance of effort (or just slightly higher) is a champion of education.

What does this all mean?

In my last article I shared my initial shock and disappointment with the county executive’s proposed budget for FY 2019. Now that I’ve explained some of the jargon, future articles will dive into questions that have been asked about the budget as well as questions that should be asked about the budget.