Gov. Larry Hogan plans to give $4 million in stopgap funding to Carroll County Public Schools that could be used to delay closing schools in the county another year, as well as another $1.6 million to two other jurisdictions that have received decreased state aid due to declining enrollment.
Del. Haven Shoemaker, R-District 5, announced the plans at the beginning of the Carroll County Board of Education's final public hearing Thursday night on the superintendent's final recommendation to close schools and adjust boundary lines.
"It is my belief that this additional financial aid to Carroll County will allow local leaders to defer school closings being considered for next year so that time is available for a more comprehensive plan tailored to insure that students' educational needs are protected during a transition year," Hogan wrote in a letter sent Thursday to the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and the Public School Superintendents Association of Maryland.
Shoemaker's announcement drew a cheer of applause from the crowd of concerned residents who sat in the auditorium of Francis Scott Key High School to voice opposition to closing their schools.
Hogan notes that while the majority of jurisdictions in the state have received increased state funding for education over the past five years, Carroll is one of three jurisdictions that have been faced with the problem of maintaining adequate funding while their student enrollment numbers decline. He proposes in the letter that Garrett County receive $1.3 million and Kent County receive $300,000.
The Board of Education is scheduled to vote Wednesday, Dec. 9, on Superintendent Stephen Guthrie's recommendation to close three schools — Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High — next year. Under the plan, the school system would revisit additional closures for the 2017-18 school year in addition to comprehensive countywide redistricting. The plan has been met by an outcry from concerned residents who do not want to see their schools close.
Jim Doolan, president of the Board of Education, responded to the announcement by saying it was the first he had heard of Hogan's plans.
"That's a great thing; we can look at that and we can look at the funding," Doolan said then. "First of all, thank you and the governor for coming at that point."
Doolan said he'd like to call an emergency meeting with the Carroll County State Delegation, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners and a representative from the governor's office before the Dec. 9 meeting to discuss details and the sustainability of the funding in future fiscal years.
"As you pointed out, the governor says there's a [deficit of $2 billion in the future] so where does this fit into that whole process?" Doolan said.
The Board of Education sent out a news release at the conclusion of the public hearing that adds: "The Board of Education believes that it is important for the citizens of Carroll County that all of the elected parties fully discuss and consider the details and ramifications of Delegate Shoemaker's plan so that the board may make the most informed decision possible at its December 9th meeting."
In a separate interview during the meeting, Shoemaker said he hopes the school system will take the money to go back to the drawing board to come up with better solutions than the ones currently being considered. The school system estimates that Guthrie's plan would save about $5.2 million in operation budget savings prior to offset costs of closing schools.
"I believe the widespread perception in the community is that there is a rush in judgment, and I understand the fiscal pressures that Carroll County Public Schools is feeling, but I think that this gives them a window of opportunity to get a closer look. There are five options; there may be two or three more out there. This will give them the time to consider those thoroughly," he said.
State Sen. Justin Ready, R-District 5, who also recently sent the school board members a letter asking them to consider an alternative option to closing a high school, said a long-term solution to the school system's funding issues will be adjusting the state's Thornton Funding Formula, which calculates state aid for local jurisdictions. Carroll school officials and the county's state delegation have made similar statements about the formula recently.
Ready said he hopes a bill will be passed in 2017 to adjust the state education funding formula.
"Hopefully this gives us some time to have lots of options for school closures; this is not to say we're not going to have school closures. We're just trying to get some funding to really give us some time to further analyze where to go from here," Ready said.
Shoemaker said he wrote to Hogan asking for budgetary relief and requesting state aid to buy some time to stave off school closings after the Nov. 11 meeting at which Guthrie announced his recommendation.
In the letter, Hogan also says he will fully fund the Geographical Cost of Education Index so it will provide additional funding for jurisdictions in which the cost of providing education is more expensive in the fiscal year 2017 budget he will submit to the General Assembly in January. Hogan did not release $68 million in GCEI funds to the state's 13 costliest jurisdictions in last year's budget cycle, meaning Carroll County Public Schools missed out on $1.2 million.
CCPS used money from its fund balance as a stopgap to get through the current fiscal year.
Current CCPS enrollment projections predict the student population will decline to 23,432 students in the 2021-22 school year, according to the 2015-2024 Educational Facilities Master Plan.
The school board is scheduled to vote on the superintendent's recommendation at a special meeting next Wednesday, Dec. 9 at 6:30 p.m. at Westminster High School.