Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Steve Guthrie has proposed an operating budget calling for a 2 percent increase, $3.27 million, in county funding for fiscal year 2015.
Guthrie presented his budget proposal, which he says is designed to keep the school system "afloat and address the needs we have," to the Board of Education Wednesday.
The budget request calls for $4.8 million more in FY 2015 than the county has in its current five-year plan and Guthrie contends this is intended to maintain services offered by the school system and to begin implementing portions of his Vision 2018 plan, a five-year action plan for the school system.
Guthrie's proposal is not the official request to the county commissioners. The Board of Education will use Guthrie's proposal as a guide during its budget discussions in February before sending a budget request to the Board of Carroll County Commissioners.
If there was any "low-hanging fruit" in the school system budget, it's all been picked over the last five years, according to Chief Financial Officer Chris Hartlove.
In his presentation to the board, Hartlove said the school system has eliminated about 199 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions over the last five years, including 96 school based staff members, 44 central office staff, and 58 support services staff.
The school system has also frozen employee salaries in five out of the last six years, he said.
Carroll is one of three school systems statewide that are four steps behind on the teacher pay scale.
Without an increase in county funding, the school system's fund balance could soon be a thing of the past.
Hartlove said If the school system is funded by what the commissioners have lined out in their five-year plan, the schools' $9.3 million fund balance, projected as of June 30, 2014, will run out in just two years.
The school system is planning to use $4 million from its fund balance in each of the next two years to cover a shortfall in county funding while also allocating $7.9 million over two years for negotiated, one-time employee bonuses.
"It doesn't add up," Hartlove said. "We could not fund this plan with our fund balance."
Guthrie added that the current county funding plan could put those bonuses in jeopardy.
School board member Jennifer Seidel said the bonuses are helpful, but a few years down the road Carroll could be the only school system steps behind in the employee pay scale if nothing is done.
"At the end of the day, we really have to make sure that we are taking care of our own," she said.
Outlining potential cuts if additional funding is not approved, Guthrie said he's not trying to scare the public, but he has to be realistic and look at all possibilities.
Possible cuts could include teaching positions, support staff positions, or closing the outdoor school.
The proposal to close the Outdoor School, which was also on the table last year, is projected save the school system $1 million a year.
"It is certainly a possibility given the fluctuating revenue funding from the county and also the decline in anticipated funding from the state," he said of these potential cuts.
Seidel said potential cuts in the budget this year would be "literally taking things, programs, opportunities from our children."