As Carroll County's largest employer, Carroll County Public Schools should be considered a good investment, according to Superintendent Steve Guthriet.
During a Tuesday, Feb. 5, budget hearing and forum, one of several scheduled to be held around the county, Guthrie outlined the various issues facing the school system and stressed that the system was an excellent investment.
"It is valuable to Carroll County as an entity," Guthrie said to the 75 people gathered in South Carroll High School's auditorium for the evening session. "People move here to go to our schools."
The school system is the ninth largest in the state, with an enrollment of more than 26,500 students, according to its website.
After 11 moves with the Army, Robert Bartholet, of Woodbine, commented that he and his wife moved their family here because of the excellent school system.
"We came here for one reason: Education drove us here," Bartholet said. "What we see here is very disturbing. It will have economic effects. How can we help you with effective means to influence the county to put money this way?"
Guthrie said that even with a declining student population, new state mandates and inflation have meant hefty bills for the school system to pay and less funds to do it.
Cuts have been made across the board over the years, he said, but more funds are still needed.
The school system may have to endure more staff cuts, the closing of Outdoor School and the possibility of closing schools.
Guthrie is not a fan of any of those options, he said.
He said he believes that the county has "sufficient funds" to support the school system.
"It is a funding decision," Guthrie said. "Where do you want to put your money?"
Carroll County schools have a 95 percent graduation rate — the highest in the state — and a dropout rate of only 1 percent, Guthrie said.
Those numbers will start to decline, however, if the system loses quality teachers to other counties and does not keep its technology current, which is expensive, Guthrie said.
"Decay doesn't happen overnight," Guthrie said. "Good teachers leave over time. We'll start to see a slow decline."
Guthrie encouraged everyone to make their concerns heard by attending Board of Education meetings and Board of Commissioners meetings.
He recommended writing letters, sending emails and using any other means of communication that they can.
Kelly Frager advised everyone to reach out to neighbors, friends in other communities, even parents at bus stops; and share their concerns.
"Sadly, most people are apathetic and so busy with their lives," Frager said. "The more people know this ... they would take action."
In her comment, Sara Spaur, a senior at South Carroll High School, expressed regret at the prospect of Outdoor School closing.
The 17-year-old said after the meeting that she hopes to be a counselor at Outdoor School this year and that Guthrie's information was upsetting.
"In today's competitive work environment, you need to prepare the student," Spaur said. "I don't like this."
A kindergarten teacher for 36 years, the last 21 in Carroll, Susan Withnell has seen a lot of changes, she said after the meeting.
If aides in the classroom were cut, her job would become even more challenging.
"A lot of children are coming to kindergarten without a preschool education," Withnell said. "The expectations for what an exiting kindergartner has, have risen dramatically. I'm teaching what 10 years ago had been a first-grade curriculum."
Board member Virginia Harrison was pleased with the level of attendance at the forum.
"I'm really happy to see this many people present," Harrison said. "It is important for the community to get involved and hear their voices."
Community residents are also invited to attend any of the following hearings:
• Monday, Feb. 11, at Winters Mill High School, 560 Gorsuch Road, Westminster.
• Wednesday, Feb. 20, at Liberty High School, 5855 Bartholow Road, Sykesville.
• Thursday, Feb. 21, at Manchester Valley High School, 3300 Maple Grove Road, Manchester.
• Monday, March 4, at Westminster High School, 1225 Washington Road, Westminster.
• Thursday, March 7, at Century High School, 355 Ronsdale Road, Eldersburg.
• Monday, March 18, at North Carroll High School, 1400 Panther Drive, Hampstead.