Keeping all schools open, giving teachers a raise and addressing other financial obligations of Carroll County Public Schools amid losses in state funding would cost county taxpayers a pretty penny — or 30. And it's money school and county government leaders don't think residents are willing to pay.
During the past several weeks, school and county officials have stated publicly that it would take a 30-percent tax increase over five years to make up a $55 million gap in county funding for the school system.
The real property tax rate would have to increase annually in 6-cent increments from the current $1.018 per $100 of assessed value to about $1.318 per $100 by fiscal year 2021 in order to meet the funding gaps over that five-year time period, assuming that no schools close and no other variables — like state funding projections — change.
However, neither school system leaders nor county commissioners think Carroll residents have an appetite for such an increase, and no commissioner supports such an increase.
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CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said he has spoken of the need for such an increase in order to illustrate the point that if the school system doesn't close schools to save money, the county will have to figure out a way to raise taxes or accept a lower-quality educational system.
Ted Zaleski, Carroll County's director of management and budget, said the 30-percent figure is a conceptional one that came from a meeting between school system and county officials during which Zaleski calculated the real property tax rate increase needed just to raise funds to meet the school system's needs in FY21.
Zaleski said he is not aware of any commissioner who has given serious thought to a tax increase.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, said he believes such an increase would destroy the county.
"It would be irresponsible to raise taxes to support a school system with declining enrollment," Rothschild said.
Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, who proposed a 2-cent real property tax increase during last fiscal year's budget cycle — this would have raised about $3.6 million to meet funding needs — said he would not consider a 6-cent property tax increase.
"It's ridiculous — it's way too much," he said.
However, Frazier said that should the school system follow through with plans to close five schools, he believes the county government must do its part in helping with CCPS's future funding needs.
"I think a modest property tax increase is not out of line," Frazier said, referring to a 1- or 2-cent hike.
On Thursday, the Carroll County Board of Commissioners voted 4-0, with Rothschild abstaining, to not reduce future school system funding when savings resulting from school closures and redistricting are realized.
A Boundary Adjustment Committee tasked with "developing appropriate countywide boundary line adjustment recommendations for board consideration," has presented four recommendations to close schools and redistrict students — one calls for closure of one school, while the other three propose closure of five schools in order to address declining student enrollment.
Closure of the five schools is estimated to provide the school system an overall operational savings of about $7.26 million, based on the eliminated core staff and core building costs, which excludes any offset costs required for school closure, according to the BAC report.
Guthrie said the school system's five-year operating budget plan accounts for four main areas: a modest ongoing increase for employees that would not make up for missed steps on the salary schedule; the ongoing deficit in state funding, at about $2 million per year, from declining student enrollment that the county must assume; inflationary impacts; and adding additional staff to areas that have seen staff reductions, such as gifted and talented and special education.
It does not account for restoring competitive employee salaries, Guthrie said, something that would take another approximately $50 million for each employee classification. Teachers are now six steps behind in salary placement in relation to other counties across the state, meaning that steps do not equate with experience as they typically would in other counties, Guthrie said. For example, a teacher with a bachelor's degree with seven years of experience would earn the same as a first-year teacher, Guthrie said at the Board of Education's Wednesday, Oct. 14 meeting.
Under the current rate, a person with a home assessed at $300,000 — the average home assessment in Carroll, according to Zaleski — owes about $3,054 each year in property tax. Should the real property tax rate increase by 6 cents to $1.078 per $100 of assessed value, the owner of a $300,000 home would then owe about $3,234 each year in property tax. At a rate of $1.318, the owner of a $300,000 home would owe about $3,954.
The current real property tax rate is $1.018 per $100 of assessed value, the seventh-highest in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation. If a hike of about 6 cents were implemented, Carroll would have the fourth-highest real property tax rate in the state, behind only Baltimore County ($1.10), Charles County ($1.205) and Baltimore city ($2.248), assuming no increases in the tax rate elsewhere in Maryland. Should the real property tax increase be raised to $1.308 by FY21, assuming that property tax rates stay constant elsewhere across the state, Carroll's would then be the second-highest in Maryland, behind only Baltimore city.
S. Wayne Carter Jr. and Wiley Hayes contributed to this article.