It has become increasingly unlikely that legislation to restore $1.1 million in state aid to Carroll County Public Schools for Fiscal Year 2015 and $3.1 million over the next three years will make it through the state legislature this year.
Barring legislative intervention, the school system will lose more than $3.1 million in funding from the state for FY15, compared to Fiscal Year 2014. Because of declining enrollment and county wealth remaining relatively stable, Carroll County schools have lost more than $6.3 million in state funding from Fiscal Year 2010 up to FY15. This is explained by the state's Thornton formula, which determines state funding to school districts in Maryland.
The Senate approved a $39 billion budget March 13 that included an amendment, Amendment 93, to restore $1.1 million in state aid to the county school system. This would cut the $3.1 loss to $2 million.
A separate bill, SB 534, tied to Senate Amendment 93 in the budget, would have instituted a 50-percent hold-harmless provision over the next two years for school systems losing Thornton funding. In addition to Carroll, those counties include Kent and Garrett.
If approved, SB 534 could have restored about $1 million in state aid to Carroll schools in each of the next three years. The bill was sponsored by all three Carroll senators.
Sen. Joseph Getty, R-District 5, said that when the four delegates from Carroll voted against the budget on the House floor March 27, it became highly unlikely that the $3.1 million of supplemental education funding for Carroll County over three years would survive this session.
Senate Bill 534
Senate Budget Amendment 93 and the amended SB 534 were designed with language that interacts between the two and creates a fail-safe guarantee to prevent the governor from rejecting the supplemental education aid as he did last year, according to Getty.
The Senate budget ran into trouble in the House when the Education and Economic Development Subcommittee voted to remove amendment 93. A similar amendment was rejected on the House floor when proposed by Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 9B.
SB 534 passed in the Senate, 47-0. However, due to opposition in the House, the House and Senate conference committee that first met March 31 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 26,000 students.
The conference committee concluded Thursday evening. The final budget will now go to the Senate and House Saturday, Getty said.
However, Krebs said she voted against the budget because the amendment to restore the $1.1 million in state aid to Carroll was not in it. She believes the budget is fiscally irresponsible as a whole because the state is not upholding its end of the deal with its pension contributions and the millions of dollars going to health care, Krebs said.
"The amendment was not in the budget, so there was no reason to vote for the budget," she said.
Krebs said the Carroll County House delegation met with the governor's staff and explained the county's funding situation. She found out the governor did not like having the $1.1 million in amendment 93 come from the Early College Innovation Fund. So she found a more favorable source for the money to come from: the Maryland Economic Development Assistance Authority and Fund, she said.
"We've all worked very hard on this and I think we've raised a lot of awareness," she said concerning state education aid.
The delegates have never voted against the money and have advocated for it, but the requested money would be a change to the formula and was never guaranteed, Krebs said.
"It seems there has been a false expectation that this is a done deal," she said.
There have been no offers made to her for the education funding if she votes for a certain thing, such as the budget, Kreb said.
"There are big, huge fundamental problems with the budget," she said. "I can't vote for this in good conscience."
Getty said he thinks the Democratic leadership in the House does not want to reward bad behavior, and they consider voting against the budget as someone thumbing their nose at the process.
Getty was against other parts of the budget, but he still voted for it to help the education system in Carroll, he said. The adjustment to the Thornton formula to help Carroll was a matter of restoring fairness to the formula's application, Getty said.
"Every bill you vote on, you have to make a decision as to balancing interests," he said.
Getty said the House and Senate delegation and county commissioners talked about this issue last fall and everyone was committed to finding a solution to this funding problem.
"This year with Garrett and Kent, we had a very rational solution with the right chemistry for that to pass this session," he said.
"I believe Del. Krebs knew exactly how the budget process works and the expectations by the committee for her yes vote that she never gave - but she hopes that the voters are naive and forget about her lack of commitment to education funding before primary election day," he said.
School budget issues
In a letter to the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, Getty said that the senators knew if the Carroll County delegates failed to embrace this legislative strategy and voted against the budget, it would limit any leverage to restore funding to Carroll County in the budget conference committee.
"If delegates won't vote for the bill to authorize the funding, the House isn't going to allocate it," he said.
"While their no votes may have been wise for them politically in the upcoming primary election campaign to prove who is the 'true conservative,' they turned their backs on their youngest constituents - the children in the public schools of Carroll County - and these actions have contributed to the financial crippling of the local school board," Getty wrote in the letter.
Krebs said although she once served on the Carroll County Board of Education and every million dollars are appreciated, what has really been financially crippling to the school districts is the pension shift back to the counties from the state. If counties didn't have that expense, they would have more to give to the school board, she said.
Manchester Valley High School was also built without help from state funding, which is a large debt to the county, Krebs said. She said people forget the history of what is crippling Carroll's school budget.
"At some point people need to take responsibility for what happened in the past and put it in perspective," she said.
2013 legislative session
According to Getty, the same legislative scenario was encountered last year, when Sen. David Brinkley, R-District 4, offered an amendment on the Senate floor to restore $1.6 million to Carroll County Public Schools.
It received support in the Senate, but when the amendment was considered in the House last year, the supplemental education funding was reduced from a 50 percent to a 25 percent hold-harmless and a trigger was added that required Gov. Martin O'Malley to re-allocate the funds.
When these funds were not forthcoming last fall, Brinkley contacted the governor's chief legislative officer and was informed that the funds would not be re-allocated because the Carroll County delegates did not vote last year in support of the budget. As a result of the delegates' votes, Carroll County did not receive any of the $1.6 million supplemental funding from the 2013 session, according to Getty.
Carroll County Public Schools
Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jonathan O'Neal said he doesn't believe the funding will be restored and it's very disappointing.
Beyond the lost revenue, he believes similar legislation to lessen state funding losses to Carroll County won't have a chance in the next couple years. SB 534 would have given the school system some legislative relief until after the study of the Thornton formula is complete, O'Neal said.
"This probably closes the conversation until the study is done," he said.
This year, Kent and Garrett were in the same situation and they joined with Carroll, but now they will likely have SB 534 to give those counties funding assistance, O'Neal said.
"We alone would be making that argument," he said.
Ted Payne, president of the Carroll County Education Association, said the time is running out to decrease the loss of state funding to the school system.
"I'm disappointed because this is something that could help the school system here in Carroll," he said.
There is a need of full support for education from the entire Carroll County delegation in Annapolis, Payne said.
Because less funding is expected from the county and the state than the schools budgeted for, there could be a reduction of 15 teachers and some elementary media specialists, a restructuring of the Judy Center Partnership, a reduction of Outdoor School to three days a week and other cuts.
Teachers are very frustrated, and Payne believes there has to be a compromise.
"We have one of the highest graduation rates in the country," he said. "As we continue to take one support after another support out due to lack of funding, we're eventually going to get to the point where we don't have the wonderful accolades we have now for being a good school system."