Carroll schools superintendent requests increased county funding

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."

"That pains me as a board member," she said.

A portion of the Vision 2018 plan included in Guthrie's budget is a request for just 10 new staff members, including three elementary math resource teachers, three middle school gifted and talented positions and four special education resource teachers.

Guthrie said there is a "desperate need" the elementary math positions, while the county is barely meeting a state mandate for its gifted and talented program.

"This is a population that we're under serving," he said of gifted and talented students.

Guthrie's budget proposal also allocates $400,000 to be used for maintaining current wireless technology infrastructure.

Last year Guthrie had requested more teaching positions as part of his Vision 2018 plan, but this year has committed to a phased-in approach of his plan.

Guthrie also laid out a five-year county revenue request that asks for continued county revenue increases each year of up to five percent.

He acknowledged that it is a lot of money, but prior to 2009, the school system regularly received a five-and-a-half percent funding increase from the county each year.

But the county's current plan only allocates $162 million in each of the next two years with the school system using $4 million out of its fund balance each year. The county is expected to increase its education funding to $167 million in fiscal year 2017.

The school system is anticipating a decrease in state funding for FY 2015 due to continued decline in enrollment and a relative wealth calculation by the state that says Carroll's combined wealth has not declined as much as other counties.

The school system is anticipating state funding to drop $2 million from $133.3 million to $131.3 million, but those figures won't be official until February, according to Hartlove.

With state funding expected to decline, the two percent increase requested from the county would only represent a less than one percent increase in the total budget, Hartlove said.

Board of Education President Virginia Harrison said without increased funding the school system will become weaker due to regulations from the state and equipment needed to meet those regulations.

"We are truly at the brink now," she said.


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