Educators at Carroll County Public Schools suspect they would need millions of dollars to pay for student recovery over the next two years.
Learning in the pandemic has resulted in more failing grades and setbacks to special education students. School leaders expressed concern for the learning loss and want to develop a plan to help students recover.
When Board of Education members met on Wednesday for a budget hearing and work session to discuss the superintendent’s proposed fiscal year 2022 budget of $368.4 million, conversations mostly involved converting 10-month staff positions to 11-month positions to help with compensatory and recovery services. They also spoke about the possible continuation of virtual learning after the pandemic and the funding they could receive from county government.
Before those discussions started, the board heard from Teresa McCulloh, president of Carroll County Education Association and the lone speaker for the budget hearing.
She thanked the board for funding the six full-time special education positions classrooms are currently benefiting from and noted how she and leaders before her always advocated for salary raises for staff.
“I will tell you that if there was ever a year that our educators, and employees, deserve compensation, it’s now,” McCulloh said noting the workload that came with virtual and hybrid instruction.
She ended on a quote from President Joe Biden: “Don’t tell me what you value, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what you value.”
Chris Hartlove, chief financial officer, said some of the ongoing funding items they are prioritizing are 11-month special educators for compensatory services, instructional materials and resources and employee compensation.
He said they want to convert approximately 80 10-month special education educators to 11-month employees “for many reasons.” Hartlove said it could cost approximately $750,000.
Superintendent Steve Lockard said the 11-month positions are not designated but would be something to apply for. “We’d be looking for our best and brightest,” he said.
Lockard said later converting from 10-month to 11-month staff is a start to helping students recover but it’s not the only answer. Nick Shockney, director of special education said the system has 3,000 special education students and about 2,000 probably need compensatory services.
The superintendent said a recovery plan for the entire system will be presented to the school board either next week or in March. He said he knows thousands who need support and credit recovery, and that it will require time and pay for teachers.
He said federal funds could be made available to help but the cost for tutoring, intervention and other recovery factors could “easily” be in the millions over the next 18 months or two years. A specific price was not yet presented.
Other budget needs and discussions went beyond recovery.
Board member Donna Sivigny asked if the school leaders thought about creating a virtual environment and how that would impact the budget. She also pitched a countywide virtual school for CCPS students instead of each school having its own.
Cindy McCabe, chief of schools, said they have considered it and noted Maryland State Department of Education requires administrators for all schools. Jason Anderson, chief academics, equity and accountability officer, said the virtual school would need its own teachers as well and they are looking at a program rather than a school.
Lockard said although they had a few inquiries about continuing virtual learning from the public, they do not know how many would do it.
“I recognize if the scale was significant enough, we might have to look at that differently,” he said.
Hartlove said when the budget was being developed, they “pushed the pandemic to the side” and planned as if they would be in normal times.
Angela McCauslin, director of curriculum and instruction, said they see a need for updated or new instructional resources in the school system. Lockard said they estimated as much as $1.2 million to provide those items.
Board President Marsha Herbert asked if the system will continue paying for online services like Schoology and Lexia. McCauslin said those programs can be helpful nowadays if a student leaves a textbook at school and needs to access it online.
“If we’re in a more traditional environment … I don’t see the need to spend that amount of money on a resource we’ve never utilized that way before,” McCauslin said.
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Hartlove said at a previous meeting they hoped the state would help with school funding after a significant drop in enrollment left them losing millions. Hartlove reported Wednesday the governor did include a “hold harmless” or extra funds to help support. He said it was an additional $100,000 for the school system.
He said CCPS will receive $180,000 for supplemental prekindergarten and $1.6 million for supplemental instruction and tutoring from the state.
Sivigny noted the county’s revenue did better than expected this fiscal year and since the school system is dealing with recovery loss, she suggested continuing to ask for the planned amount from the five-year funding plan the school system developed with commissioners.
Although the five-year plan showed gradual increases for the school system, FY21 funding was $4.9 million less than expected, due to the pandemic.
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, who was present at the meeting, said they had a lot of one-time revenue.
He also noted that although the school system is half the budget, it would be competing with multiple other parts of the budget.
“Things can happen, but right at this present time, we’re not looking at a whole lot of extra funds in the future,” he said.