Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Steven Lockard presented his first proposed budget at the January Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, requesting a 4.65 percent increase from last year’s request for the 2020 fiscal year.
“The proposed budget asks for a local increase ... equivalent to $8.9 million over last year’s request,” Lockard said at the meeting. “The recommended FY20 operating budget will then be available for public comment until the February meeting, at which time we will adopt the requested budget for us to submit to commissioners.”
The extra funds requested in the total proposed budget of $334,979,586 have been calculated to go toward an $8.9 million pool for salary negotiations and school-based priority improvements and $2.8 million of inflation assistance — taking into account that hiring turnover is predicted to save the county $2.8 million in new hires replacing senior retirees.
The budget presentation came after public comment from a sea of teachers and union representatives clad in red Wednesday evening, similar to the December BOE meeting.
“The commissioners were able to increase funding for Sheriff’s Office [last year, which included] increased compensation so they could have law enforcement the county needs,” said teacher Tony Roman.
“So I'm calling on all of you,” he said. “And I’ve mentioned this to commissioners already — to make this budget cycle the year of the educator. We are in a similar situation to law enforcement last year, and need a similar solution.”
He said he was encouraged by the fact that the BOE and Board of County Commissioners are working to set up a meeting together to discuss budget needs.
Another teacher, Kelley McDonough, who said she is also a parent and Carroll County resident, said she overheard a BOE member say that they were “satisfied” with the funding the county provided CCPS and that the state needs to pitch in.
“The school board’s budget increases each year by 5 percent, and the Board of [County] Commissioners only allocated a 3 percent increase [this year] in their five-year plan. I have to ask: How is this satisfying?” she said.
“What and where are the priorities? Accountability and achievement are words thrown around constantly, and as a three-pronged stakeholder I have to ask, what are you trying to achieve and whose responsibility is it? Whose back does it fall on?”
She also said the structure of the BOE meetings discourages citizen participation as the time for public comment only arrived around 9 p.m., after multiple long, data-heavy presentations.
By the time the teachers could speak — which was just before Lockard presented his budget — the crowd at the meeting, which was packed at 5 p.m. had decreased to a mere 11 individuals.
Lockard assured the teachers present that “reasonable and competitive” employee salaries were a priority.
“For the first time in many, many years this budget doesn’t include any reductions in employees. It’s important for me to continue progress we’ve made in the past few years in terms of employee compensation,” Lockard said.
“In FY09 we ranked ninth in the state [for teacher compensation] which is consistent with our relative wealth ranking,” he said. “In ’16, we ranked 23rd — second to last. FY18 moved up to 17th.”
Lockard also said that no positions were added to the CCPS budget for improvements since 2008.
Christopher Hartlove, chief financial officer of CCPS Financial Services, said the county, in fact, has cut 189 teacher positions in the past 10 years.
The largest cause for the inflation increase in the budget, he said, is employee insurance.
“Right now we are projecting they will go up by $1.85 million,” he said. “Some items are going up, others are going down. Medical insurance has a 6 percent increase, dental is 7 percent — but vision is going down by 24 percent.”
The next operating budget hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23. It will be followed by a budget work session.
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Then there will be another meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 6, before the Board of Education adopts the operating budget on Feb. 13 to turn it over to the Board of County Commissioners for approval.