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Carroll County school budget focuses on academic recovery from COVID-19 pandemic

Carroll County’s superintendent said his proposed fiscal 2022 budget of $368.4 million focuses on direct support for students and staff as they recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Steve Lockard said during last week’s board of education meeting that although they anticipate flat funding from the state and are aware the county could make funding adjustments due to the pandemic, Carroll County Public School staff put a budget plan in place to prioritize academic recovery.

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Carroll’s boards of education and commissioners will hold a joint meeting on Thursday. A budget hearing and work session will be held Feb. 3 and the school board is expected to adopt the budget Feb. 10.

The worst case scenario is a loss of $4.1 million in state funds due to a drop in enrollment in the public schools.

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Chris Hartlove, chief financial officer, said that’s assuming the state does not provide recovery funds. He said he does not expect that to happen and is cautiously optimistic the state will assist because school districts across Maryland also experienced a decrease in enrollment.

The best case scenario for state funding is that it remains the same amount as fiscal 2021 — $136.1 million.

Local funding, however, is expected to be $6.2 million more than the previous fiscal year, or $204,617,860. It’s based on the county government’s five-year operating plan. Although the five-year plan showed gradual increases for the school system, the fiscal 2021 funding was $4.9 million less than expected, due to the pandemic. Hartlove acknowledged the county could adjust its funding again for the same reasons.

“We will work with whatever funding we get, but we certainly advocate for what’s in the plan at least at the start of this process,” Hartlove said.

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The school system’s fund balance was $15.5 million as of June 30. About $8 million went toward the capital improvement project fund, special education compensatory services, summer learning recovery and nine full-time health, safety and technology positions during this current fiscal year. For fiscal 2022, CCPS is proposing to use the fund balance to only continue funding the nine positions which cost $817,020 at this time.

For the other instructional recovery items, special education and summer learning, Hartlove said they do not have them in this version of the budget, but the “significant items” will be included in the budget proposal presented in May.

“We are going to spend the winter and spring months developing those plans,” Hartlove said, adding it could be funded through the fund balance or federal grant money.

Other budget proposals to help meet the student recovery plan is to reclassify some special education teachers from 10-month to 11-month staff, purchase instructional resources like new textbooks and provide competitive salaries for staff, according to the presentation.

Maryland State Department of Education announced Jan. 15 that they will allocate $781 million to Maryland schools to help students recover from the pandemic. The money comes from the federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act.

“The new funding, more than four times the initial awards to state education agencies under the Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security (CARES) Act earlier this spring, is intended to help states and school districts reopen schools, measure and effectively address significant learning loss, and take other actions to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the students and families who depend upon public K-12 education,” the release states.

Carroll received nearly $7.5 million.

Hartlove said in an interview the system does not yet have a specific plans for state education funding but there is a “fairly wide window of when you can use the funds.” It will, he said, be used for academic recovery, technology and personal protective equipment needs.

The governor will present his budget this week and Hartlove said the school system hopes to know in the next few days how it will effect the school system.

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