With election season in full swing, Carroll County Public Schools has been a point of conversation and contention.
And school officials have been hounded with an unprecedented number of questions — many alluding to statements which simply aren't true, Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jonathan O'Neal told the Board of Education at its Wednesday meeting. There were comments alleging that the school system could do more with its funds, that teacher pay is either a conspiracy or has actually been raised and that the school system has added positions instead of cutting them.
O'Neal has heard this rhetoric and been asked these questions via email repeatedly — so many times that he didn't have the chance to respond individually. Thus, he set out to dispel the rumors in a public setting, presenting a PowerPoint titled "CCPS Facts and Figures" at the meeting.
The conclusion: Teacher salaries are below the competitive market rate, and this threatens the school system's success. The declining ongoing, operational revenue makes it nearly impossible to meet the system's needs, and there needs to be a better plan, according to O'Neal.
CCPS funding history
The Board of Education passed its Fiscal Year 2015 budget last month: a nearly $329 million balanced operating budget that Superintendent of Schools Steve Guthrie said was "certainly risky."
That's because it dipped into its fund balance for employee bonuses, to preserve crisis counselors, to keep Outdoor School a five-day program and to balance the budget. The fund balance is projected to deplete significantly during the next two fiscal years.
The nearly $329 million budget includes teacher pensions, bonuses and other uses of the fund balance, operating funds for two newer schools, restricted funds, county one-time funds and comparable non-restricted revenue.
There's a misconception that the Board of Education can decide what to do with all its funds. However, that's not true, O'Neal said, as restricted funds can only be used for the purpose defined in a specific grant.
And when O'Neal crunched the numbers, he realized a fact about the money used however the board sees fit, called non-restricted revenue: For the first time since FY08, the FY15 budget dropped to a little less than $290 million.
Maintenance of Effort
Maintenance of Effort is a law that requires counties to provide funding per student that isn't less than the past year.
"It is the law, for better or for worse," O'Neal said.
It sets an arbitrary "ceiling" for funding CCPS, according to O'Neal's PowerPoint. And this dollar amount doesn't address the community's needs, according to O'Neal. The per pupil amount for FY15 is about $6,236.
It provides the same dollar figure to each student. To O'Neal, that indicates that all students have the same needs.
"That to me is not the case in this school system or any that I'm familiar with," O'Neal said. "We have a lot of different programs within those schools, lots of students with different needs."
There is less staff than during the 2008-2009 school year. At that time, CCPS employed 3,498 full-time equivalent positions, despite two new schools opening and the completion of the full-day kindergarten phase-in during that timeframe. Last school year, CCPS employed 3,471 full-time equivalent, according to Maryland State Department of Education reports.
Instructional staff decreased from 2,534 during the 2007-2008 school year to 2,477 from 2012-2013. The totals fluctuated during that timespan in between, according to MSDE.
Additionally, Carroll County Public Schools has the lowest starting salary for entry-level teachers with a bachelor's degree at $40,400, according to a MSDE 2013-2014 analysis.
Teachers have received one "step" — an increase in salary based on experience — since FY09 and have not seen a cost of living raise since 2009. That places CCPS as one of just three school systems in the state that are four steps behind experience, O'Neal said.
"[Salaries] are not moving in a good direction if you're CCPS and trying to hire and maintain folks," O'Neal said.
Board Vice President Jim Doolan echoed that sentiment. Carroll is a strong school system, he said, and he's afraid if funding levels remain consistent, that may change down the road.
"Here we are trying to compete with teachers and our neighbor down the road in Howard County," said Doolan, adding Howard County has a plan for step increases in the next few years. "We're no longer going to be able to recruit teachers that we want."