Teachers and farmers made up the majority of Carroll County residents who came out Tuesday night, May 15, to fight for fiscal year 2019 funding despite a torrential rainstorm that began when the public budget hearing began.
At least one-third of the attendees said they represented educators, 20 out of a crowd of about 60, and spoke out against the $4 million gap between what the county will award Carroll County Public Schools and what the Board of Education has requested.
“I’m very pleased with our turnout,” said Carroll County Education Association President Teresa McCulloh after the hearing. “It shows our educators care about their jobs and their students,” said the county teachers union president.
In the FY19 budget, $200,746,690 is going to CCPS. The schools are receiving a $2 million increase from last year — 49 percent of the county’s total budget — but educators said public school teachers in Carroll County are still paid salaries among the lowest in the state.
A Westminster High School teacher said what he saved last year in property taxes, he would have gladly continued to pay. It was roughly $100, Tom Scanlan said, enough for a night on the town with his wife.
“I think when it comes to government spending, I think [we] could settle for carryout,” Scanlan said to the commissioners.
“We are still at the bottom when it comes to salary in this state,” he said. “We have made some modest gains, and we are grateful for that, but we are far from competitive with other counties. We’ve heard the same from Carroll Community [College].”
Scanlan requested the Board of County Commissioners revisit the school budget and not only fully fund it to the level that had been requested by the county Board of Education, but “to go beyond.”
“I know that's a lot, but the future of Carroll County depends on it,” he said.
Kathy Fuller, however, who is running for commissioner in District 5, said although government employees might be able to afford an extra $100 in taxes, there are many who could not.
“I have talked to a lot of people who aren't government employees and cannot afford that extra $100,” she said. “Your job is to raise funding in a way we can afford, and that is not by raising taxes.”
Also requesting the board consider higher salaries was a Carroll County Community College professor, Raza Khan.
He said he was stunned to find — with 12 years experience and as a division chair at the college — that colleagues with less experience in comparable Maryland colleges were paid 33 percent more than him, according to reports from 2013.
“Hopefully after you have seen those numbers, your silence will compel you to ponder as well how we allow this, and how we must not allow this going forward,” Khan said to the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday evening.
“There are … deep and powerful codes on the value of education, whether it be K-through-12 or higher education,” said Khan, division chair of sciences and director of STEM Scholars at Carroll Community. “And I know there are salary issues in our country, not just in our county. However over the years I also learned that — even when I do not want to believe it — my professional work seems to have a direct relationship with the salary I earn, or what society terms as my real value.”
After the hearing, Fuller said her main concern was that taxes could increase to the point where people will not be able to live in Carroll County anymore and that the most important thing for the board to do, from her perspective, is think about what is sustainable for the long term.
Others concerned about the long-term consequences of the board’s actions included Woodbine farmer William Harrison.
Although commissioners proposed only taking a half-million dollars from the agricultural preservation budget for FY20, he said the “nipping and tucking” the budget has seen in recent years is unwise.
“The [people want to] live here because we have such beautiful farmland,” he said. “And if you don’t preserve the farms, you're not gonna have the farmland.
“We have some really tremendous farms that want to be in next year’s program, and if we don't fund this we won’t get them,” Harrison said. “We have some very large, very committed farmers that want to go in the program, but if the money isn’t there, they aren't going to do it and we are going to lose them.”
Farmer Gary Dell of Dell Brothers in Westminster also wanted to encourage the board to consider Carroll’s historic agricultural heritage, and not to discount it in favor of schools.
He said life in Carroll County is a reward in itself, and teachers shouldn’t compare themselves to others across the state. Maybe, he said, they should look at others in leadership positions to step in.
“Don't compare yourself to everyone else,” Dell said to educators in the audience. “Do a good job, live in Carroll County; Carroll County is a good place to live; it always has been. Why? Because we have a great balance: We aren’t the city, we are not totally the country.
“Please support Carroll County as a whole,” he said, “and I'd strongly suggest the teachers try to support better leadership for the Board of Education.”
Commissioners agreed the biggest controversies in the FY19 budget lie within changes the school and agricultural preservation budgets and that the fight to fund the two is longstanding.
“Agricultural preservation is more than just agricultural preservation,” said Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, after the hearing. “It’s indicative of an epic battle going on between those that want to preserve our county and those that want to urbanize it — and I will not support urbanization.”
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said after the hearing that one of the biggest difficulties in his perspective is the implementation of having school resource officers in the high schools, which requires about $1.7 million of the FY19 budget.
He said it’s a big expense because it’s new to Carroll, but once the state chips in some pressure will be alleviated.
“It’s very important for me to assure our folks they are protected,” he said. “The question isn’t ‘if’ [we implement the program], it’s when and how. And we need a better idea of how the state will help us.”
More information on the proposed budget can be found at www.ccgovernment.carr.org/ccg/budget, and the budget adoption is scheduled for 10 a.m. May 29 at the county office building.