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Carroll County school board approves $403 million budget, thanks staff for hard work

Carroll’s Board of Education unanimously passed its fiscal 2022 budget for Carroll County Public Schools on Monday, including a $403 million operating budget.

The board held a special meeting to talk about the budget, an agenda item that was tabled from the May 12 meeting. Board members and staff were not wearing masks in the room for the first time since the pandemic started. Students and staff in school buildings are still required to wear masks indoors.

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Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners approved granting the Board of Education an additional $1 million to fund bonuses for school staff on the condition the school system matches the funds. Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, voted against the motion at Tuesday afternoon’s proposed budget work session, citing a drop in student enrollment as his reasoning for wanting to hold off.

The recommended operating budget plan for the county called for the school system to receive $204.6 million, sticking with an agreement to increase funding by 3.13%, which works out to $6.2 million. The Board of Education proposed a budget in which the county funding would increase by $11.4 million or 5.7%, to be at the level in fiscal 2022 that was agreed upon before COVID-19.

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A prepandemic plan created by both boards called for funding for CCPS to increase by 3.13% every year, which included a $203.4 million request for fiscal 2021 and $209.8 million for fiscal 2022. However, after the pandemic hit, the commissioners allocated only $198.4 million for fiscal 2021.

Monday evening, the board approved the county’s fund, as well as the one-time $1 million.

Chris Hartlove, the school system’s chief financial officer, reported at Monday’s meeting the $403 million budget includes converting nine positions from contractors to full-time CCPS positions: five special education speech and language pathologists, one occupational therapist, one physical therapist, one teacher of the visually impaired, and one teacher of the hearing impaired.

Nick Shockney, director of the special education department, said converting the staff is a tremendous benefit because it improves quality and consistency of service.

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The school system’s fund balance will use $817,020 to fund nine full-time health, safety and technology positions, and $6.8 million for one-time stipends, other payments to employees and to match county funds.

Federal one-time funding will cover 20 temporary full-time elementary teachers, eight temporary full-time middle school teachers and .6 temporary adaptive PE teacher for $2.1 million.

The high school program course fee for the virtual program is $340,000, or $2,500 per student per year, Hartlove said.

He said later this is the first time in his career the budget was over $403 million, adding that a lot of it is due to federal money, which was $37.8 million. The state contributed $145.5 million to the CCPS budget.

Board member Ken Kiler asked Hartlove to break down how much of the budget goes to employees because he thinks “a lot of people lose track.”

He said $150.1 million is in the instructional salaries and wages category. According to his report, $2.1 million is going to student personnel services, $4.9 million goes toward student health services, $26 million goes toward transportation and $89 million is in the fixed charges category. Hartlove said a big chunk of that is employee benefits.

“It has been a really tough year with this COVID,” Marsha Herbert, board president, said.

She listed all the changes the school system went through including going from virtual to hybrid learning as well as going from two days to four days of in-person learning. She also listed a few employee groups who “stepped up,” like custodians, maintenance workers, nurses and speech therapists. Herbert also recognized central office staff who were “covering up to 70 to 80 classes a day” when staffing in the school buildings was low.

“So please don’t say they do not deserve a raise,” she said, adding they were the backbone to keeping the schools open. “We could not have done this without all our employees.”

Herbert thanked the county commissioners for the extra $1 million but also urged them to reconsider holding quarterly meetings with the board of education. She said there would have been fewer questions and they would have understood their needs if the meetings were held.

The board voted unanimously to approve the operating budget, as well as the $9.2 million food services budget, the $10 million debt service budget and the $45.2 million capital improvement plan budget.

Superintendent Steve Lockard said the school system has been through a lot in the past 14 months, but they have also learned a lot. Although it has not been perfect, he said he “couldn’t be more proud of our employees.”

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