With early voting just ended and Election Day on Nov. 6, the Carroll County Times reached out to the candidates running for school board to see where they stand on key issues facing Carroll County Public Schools.
Six candidates are running for three seats on the Board of Education.
Bob Lord, the current school board president, is the only incumbent running. County Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, is also running for a spot. The other four candidates are Patricia Ann Dorsey, a retired elementary school principal; Tara Battaglia, a parent and community activist; Kenneth Kiler, an executive at a construction company and founder of the Manchester Wrestling program; and Mary Kowalski, a former CCPS employee and current citizen activist.
What is the first thing you would do within the purview of the school board, if elected, to address the anticipated funding gap in fiscal year 2020 and in years to come?
The first thing I would do to help the funding gap is look into partnerships and sponsorships with businesses in our county for our schools and activities. We need to look at our long term goals as well as short term. We need to make sure we are talking with our municipalities about their growth plans as well as the county commissioners.
We need to talk to our state delegation about our aging schools and the funding that is available to help with aging school repairs or modernizations. We need to ask our delegation to advocate for the state to fund new laws that affect educational needs instead of passing the cost to the counties.
We need to make sure we are making smart decisions and listening to our students, parents and communities when making decisions. I want to be accessible to anyone that wants to talk at all times. A Board of Education member is an elected position and elected officials should be reachable to the public. No generic emails. The citizens of Carroll County deserve to have those they voted for listen to them, take their concerns, ideas and questions seriously.
Patricia Ann Dorsey:
To address the anticipated funding gap in fiscal year 2020, the first thing I would do within the purview of the school board would be to suggest prioritizing the needs of the system. In the past, we have identified classroom instruction as a top priority and have attempted to maintain items in the budget that support classroom learning. After having this prioritized list, I would suggest meeting as a board with our county commissioners and state delegation to share the needs of our school system and to work collaboratively with them as we seek funding to support our budget.
Throughout my eight years as county commissioner, I have been a strong advocate for Carroll County schools and for school funding. When I came into office in 2010, county funding for schools was approximately $161 million per year. This year, funding for schools was $192 million. Each year, particularly in my first term, I led the fight for properly funding schools.
CCPS still struggles with funding because declining enrollment and the state formula has left state funding for schools in steady decline. Funding from Maryland now represents less than 38 percent of the total school budget while the county portion has grown to about 58 percent.
The CCPS budget continues to increase. Cost savings in some areas are offset by rising systemic costs in other areas. Year-over-year salary increases drive the overall budget to increase each year. This creates the gap between what will be needed and what has been budgeted by the county for the next several years.
Therefore, the first thing I would do to address the funding gap would be to reorganize and convene the Combined Education Committee. The CEC is something I initiated as commissioner to bring together representatives of the Board of [County] Commissioners, Board of Education, state delegation and citizens to address the issue of the funding gap and seek solutions. By bringing this group back I will advocate for a dedicated revenue source in the county budget for education salary increases, more state funding beyond the formula and efficiencies in the schools as well.
As a school board member (and taxpayer), we need to understand that the Carroll County school system is not self-funded. The school board cannot levy, raise or lower taxes. We request funding from the county (55 percent), state (40 percent) and federal (5 percent) governments. This includes annual funding and special grants and other funding. We need to have positive communication with all levels. We also need to maintain Central Office staff that is skilled at developing and obtaining both consistent and creative funding.
I feel strongly that the most important factor in developing the budget is transparency. Without this, obtaining funding becomes more complicated. Without transparency, the local taxpayers (who fund the majority of our budget) lose trust.
With budgets, the devil is in the details. It always comes down to the individual pieces. Over one-third of the operating budget is instructional salaries and wages. If you add administration and mid-level administration to that, it approaches 45 percent. Negotiations and maintaining the proper sized staff are critical elements of the overall budget. Special education, student transportation and operation of plant are also significant portions of the overall budget.
We need to properly negotiate with the five bargaining units that represent the administration, teachers and staff. We need to get smarter about how we maintain, close and build schools and offices. We need staff that is adept and creative in developing all of the pieces of the budget. We need to make all of the pieces fit the funding that is available.
There has been a funding gap every year for as long as I can remember. They never have enough money. In fact, I first became involved in local politics in 2006, when I helped form a grassroots community group to fight against a “pork-barrel” project in Carroll County. In other words, it was wasteful spending of millions of dollars. We had to collect over 1,000 signatures to successfully stop the “pork-barrel” project. You see, if you want to keep a school open, it doesn’t matter how many hundreds of citizens protest the closure, the officials turn a deaf ear if it doesn’t match their agenda.
The flip side of the coin is that when they want to spend millions for something that is not needed, like a replacement school for East Middle, no matter how tight the budget is, they will continue to put forward twisted statistics to prop up the proposal. It makes no sense, but it does make dollars and cents for somebody. And that’s what we’re dealing with.
So, the first thing I will do, if elected, in terms of funding gaps, is to raise public awareness about the need for better decision-making, if you will. “Follow the money” is an appropriate phrase. Another saying which I think applies is, “When you’re in a hole, stop digging.” Our county taxpayers paid $10 million for school construction debt payments in fiscal year 2017-2018 alone. This will get worse, if we continue down the current path.
The Board of Education’s only funding sources are our local government and formula-based state funding.
The only way to address the gap is either to cut spending or request more funding.
CCPS has cut spending in nearly every category over the past 10 years. Our expenditures have been reduced by $35 million, or almost 10 percent of our operating budget. These reductions in expenditures have spanned a full range of positions, programs, services and needs in our school system. We have continually search for more places to find efficiencies.
As the legislative chair of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education, an association that represents all Maryland Boards of Education, I spend many hours in Annapolis working with Maryland state delegates and senators to find solutions to address our funding needs