'We are where we are:' Carroll school board struggles to balance FY19 budget

'We are where we are:' Carroll school board struggles to balance FY19 budget

Reductions in teaching and central office positions, and prescription rebate revenue are just a few avenues Carroll County Public Schools officials are looking to use in an effort to close a more than $4 million budget gap with one week until the Board of Education is scheduled to approve its fiscal year 2019 budget.

Over the course of a one-hour meeting Wednesday, the school board sat with Superintendent Stephen Guthrie going over possible plans to find additional funds to balance this year's budget.


Guthrie said he wasn't saying "any of this is ideal," regarding his suggestions, and said they're going to have to make some sacrifices.

"The tighter I make this budget, the closer I go to actual expenditures ... the less flexibility you're going to have," Guthrie told the board.

When CCPS approved its preliminary FY19 budget in February, it included a $6.4 million gap between what it was asking for and what the county and state allotted, though Guthrie repeatedly said he understood the school system would have to make up at least part of the shortfall.

During the county's budget session, the Board of County Commissioners added an additional $2 million to the school system's budget, bringing the total increase this year from the county to $5.5 million, or almost 3 percent, over FY18.

With that, CCPS' budget gap comes to about $4.4 million, something Guthrie tried to balance Wednesday as he worked through possible plans.

Guthrie told the school board CCPS targeted an additional $2.4 million in reductions by cutting 21 full-time equivalent teaching positions, which would save $1,575,000.

In an interview with the Times, Guthrie said the teacher positions would be cut through attrition.

He also suggested cutting five full-time central office positions — a savings of $328,117 — and reducing maintenance projects — a savings of $473,567.

Guthrie said there will be some people in central office who are affected and that he's still playing with different positions. That said, there is a chance those people may be moved to other unfilled positions if their position in central office is cut.

"It's possible that they can end up somewhere else," he said.

Guthrie said last year, CCPS created a new category in the budget for infrastructure renewal, which can go toward any capital or maintenance project. To replace the money being taken from maintenance funds, he said they can pull leftover money from capital projects that normally get swept into an unallocated fund.

It's not ideal, Guthrie said, but "we are where we are."

For the remaining $2 million, Guthrie laid out three additional plans to the school board, though he only recommended one of them.

Guthrie's recommended plan of action pulls money from a number of places. These include: $450,000 from declining sick leave payout; $400,000 decrease in additional prescription rebate revenue; $351,184 decrease from supplies and materials — which Guthrie said would not come out of the classroom; $253,117 decrease from additional hiring turnover; $250,000 decrease in funds for hourly employees; $100,781 decrease in insurances; and a reduction of two more central office staff — $194,918 — which would bring that total to seven.


The first option called for using $2 million of the school system's fund balance, something neither Guthrie, nor the school board, were in favor of.

"Other superintendents and boards have done this," Guthrie said.

But, he added, it means CCPS would be using one-time funds for ongoing expenditures, which would immediately create a deficit in FY20.

Board member Marsha Herbert said that plan "sets us up for disaster."

"I do not want to touch that," she said.

Another option — which was also not one Guthrie recommended — was renegotiating contracts to lower the already negotiated raises for staff. This year is the last of a three-year negotiated contract.

"That's been suggested during the work sessions at the commissioner level," Guthrie said, adding that some citizens have also brought up the idea.

But, he added, making that decision would not be consistent with the board's funding priorities. Many times throughout the budget process the school board has said one of its top priorities is funding the agreement.

Guthrie said if they go back to the table, they sacrifice competitive salaries. Herbert said she didn't want to go that route either, adding that she wouldn't vote for it.

"We owe that to everyone to fund that negotiated agreement," she said.

After hearing Guthrie's recommended course of action, board member Devon Rothschild expressed concern and frustration over the cuts, and the lack of additional positions in areas of need such as crisis counselors and behavioral specialists.

"I recognize that we're at a terrible place," she said. "While we may be able to make this budget work, I do not believe this budget is doing what we need for the school system."

Rothschild said she knows they've worked over the years to not affect students when reducing the budget, but with the reductions this year, they'll be doing that.

"We're affecting students. We are," she said, adding that there are areas that they should be adding staff.

Guthrie said he agreed and that he knows it is troubling, "but unfortunately it is the reality."

"There's just not enough revenue to do what we do in the county," he said.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, who was sitting in the meeting as an ex-officio, nonvoting member, said he hopes there will be more money coming from the state in the future, but said the county struggled this year on its budget as well.

"This was terrible. — this was the worst year ever with the budget," Weaver said.