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News Maryland Carroll County Westminster

Provisions to recoup state education funding for Carroll schools falter in House

A pair of proposals that would have limited the amount of state funding lost by Carroll County Public Schools over the next three years was approved by the county's state senators, supported by the Board of Carroll County Commissioners and pleaded for by local education officials.

But the measure appears to have stalled in the House of Delegates and is not included in the state budget as legislators put the finishing touches on the fiscal year 2015 budget.

"We are greatly disappointed," Superintendent of schools Steve Guthrie said on April 1.

As the budget stands, Carroll is facing a $3.1 million decrease, or two percent, in state funding this year.

"Even flat revenue causes us to decrease in one area," Guthrie said. "A declining revenue further compounds that issue."

From fiscal years 2010 through 2015, the school system will have lost more than $6 million in funding from the state.

In mid-March, the Senate approved a $39 billion budget which included an amendment that would have recouped about $1.1 million in state education funding losses that the county school system was anticipating.

Although the $1.1 million represented less than one percent of state funding to the school system, school officials had referred to the amendment as the "best-case state scenario."

Senate Bill 534, also included in the Senate's version of the budget, would have instituted a 50-percent hold harmless provision over the next two years on state education funding for school systems experiencing declining enrollments and funding through the state's Thornton calculations, which factor in enrollment and county wealth.

If approved, the bill could have saved Carroll schools $1.1 to $1.6 million in each of the next three years.

Among the bill's five Republican sponsors are state Sens. David Brinkley (Frederick and Carroll counties), Joseph Getty (Baltimore and Carroll counties) and Allan Kittleman (Howard and Carroll counties).

Getty called the measures an attempt to "cushion" the financial losses to Carroll County.

He argued that if Carroll's delegates would have supported Gov. Martin O'Malley's budget proposal, that the amendment and bill would have made it into the House version of the budget.

"I know that the chairman of appropriations was receptive to this proposal," Getty said, citing conversations with Del. Norm Conway, a Wicomico County Democrat, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee.

But while SB 534 passed the Senate, 47-0, the house version ran into trouble when the House Education and Economic Development Subcommittee voted to remove the amendment. The bill was rejected on the House floor when proposed by Del. Susan Krebs, an Eldersburg Republican.

Carroll delegates caution that approving this funding would not have been as easy as Getty made it out to be.

"For them [senators] to imply what would happen in the House, they have no knowledge of that at all," Krebs said.

Del. Justin Ready, a Westminster Republican, acknowledged that a delegate's vote on the budget may result in additional funding for a particular issue, but said that there are no guarantees.

"This was not an easy decision, I went back and forth," he said of his vote.

Ready said this was a "very tiny amount" of funding leveraged by the House majority in an attempt for Republican votes on the state's $39 billion budget.

He added that he believes the state's under funding of teachers' pension plans is more damaging to education than the loss of this funding.

Del. Nancy Stocksdale, a Westminster Republican on the House Education and Economic Development Subcommittee, cast the lone vote against stripping the amendment during the subcommittee deliberations.

Stocksdale said she is sympathetic to county teachers, but pointed out that the Carroll education funding was not in the state budget proposal voted on in the House.

She added the budget represented a $2 billion increase in spending, which was too much for her.

"My constituents in Carroll County want smaller government," she said.

Carroll delegates have met with Jared Billings, Gov. O'Malley's education policy advisor, to request funding be included in a supplemental budget.

"There's still time if the administration or majority leadership wants something done," said Del. Don Elliott, a New Windsor Republican. "They still have time to do it."

On March 31, during the first meeting of the Senate and House conference committee, legislators rewrote the hold-harmless legislation to only apply to school systems with 5,000 or fewer students, thus only applying to Garrett and Kent counties.

Carroll has more than 27,000 students, according to the school system's website.

The sponsors of HB 814 include representatives of Garrett and Kent counties.

"If the House delegation had the same priority [on funding education], beginning on Jan. 8, they could have come up with an alternative plan to come up with some additional education aid for Carroll County," Getty said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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