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Enrollment decline means decrease in state funds for Carroll schools

About $1.1 million in state funding for Carroll County Public Schools this year and at least $1 million in each of the next two years is currently the subject of debate for Carroll legislators in Annapolis.

While the Senate approved a $39 billion budget March 13 that included an amendment saving $1.1 million this year for the local school system, Carroll delegates say that the amendment may be hard to keep in the House of Delegates version of the state budget.

"The $1 million for the Board of Education is a priority, but it's also a priority to do it in a fiscally responsibly way with the whole budget," said Del. Susan Krebs, an Eldersburg Republican.

An amendment to the Senate's approved budget, sponsored by Manchester Republican state Sen. Joe Getty, would restore some education funding to Carroll, Garrett and Kent counties that was expected to be lost due to state funding calculations factoring in school enrollment and county wealth.

Due to a continued decrease in student enrollment, Carroll County Public Schools was slated to see $3.1 million less in state funding than last year.

But in the budget passed by the Senate, Carroll would recoup about $1.1 million.

"We're going to lose [funding] because of declining enrollment, but we're trying to cushion that loss," Getty said.

Krebs said Carroll's delegates will try "very hard" to include this in the budget, but House members have concerns with the Senate's decision to trim the state's annual $300 million pension contribution in the budget.

"It's sort of easy to put money back into the budget when you've taken $300 million out of the pension that you're supposed to be paying," she said. "That's a really big sticking point with me."

Getty argues that if delegates voice support for the Senate budget then his amendment will not be pulled as the House moves through the budget process.

"On the Senate side, I feel like we have done what is best for Carroll County," he said.

While state legislators wrestle with the budget, school officials are pleading their case as to why the amendment needs to stay.

"That's an enormous deal for us because we are at a point where every dollar matters," Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jon O'Neal said.

Although the potential $1.1 million in savings for this year represents less than 1 percent of state aid to Carroll, O'Neal said on March 17 that it is the "best case state scenario" for Carroll County.

The Board of Education also wrote a letter to the delegation "basically begging for support," O'Neal said.

Getty, who this year replaced Sen. David Brinkley, a New Market Republican, on the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, renewed a Brinkley budget amendment from last year that provides a 50 percent hold-harmless to school systems experiencing a decrease in state education funding.

Last year, the amendment passed the Senate, but was reduced to 25 percent in the House.

Brinkley said on March 18 that the concern surrounds state funding formulas that harm school systems with decreasing enrollments, and this effort is an "attempt to give some type of certainty" to school systems.

"The whole idea is to provide some sense of stability," he said.

In addition to Getty's amendment, there is a 50 percent hold-harmless provision in Senate Bill 534 for fiscal years 2016 and 2017 that is intended to protect county schools from further declines in state funding.

If approved, the bill could save Carroll schools $1.1 to $1.6 million in each of the next three years. If the amendment had been approved last year, Carroll County Public Schools would have received $1.6 million more in state funding than it did.

"You're talking about $5 million in state education aid to Carroll County that is at risk," Getty said.

Del. Justin Ready, a Westminster Republican, said he "obviously supports" the amendment and bill, and said there are a lot of places in the budget where the state can find this money.

"Hopefully, we can make it work," he said.

Ted Payne, president of the Carroll County Education Association, the county teachers union, said his organization is in "full-fledged support" of the amendment and SB534.

Payne said this effort is important because the county expects to see a continued decrease in enrollment resulting in less state funding in future years.

"Any little bit is going to help," he said.

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