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Public has 2nd chance to comment on Carroll school budget priorities on Wednesday

Citizens will have a second session to comment about budget priorities for Carroll County Public Schools.

The second public hearing on Superintendent Steve Lockard’s proposed operating budget is set for 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 5 in the meeting room at 125 N. Court Street, Westminster.

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At the first hearing, held near the end of January, two speakers advocated for more resources for educators, particularly in special education and behavioral health.

At the monthly Board of Education meeting scheduled for Feb. 12, the board plans to adopt the proposed budget, noting if there were any changes since it was first introduced to the board in January. The budget will not be set in stone. The next step for CCPS will be to bring the proposal to the Board of County Commissioners alongside other county agencies.

At the first public hearing Jan. 22, Christopher Hartlove, chief financial officer for CCPS gave a brief review of the $345 million budget for those who had missed the January BOE meeting.

Competitive salaries for the CCPS workforce are listed as the budget’s number one priority.

CCPS hopes to add six special education resource teachers, one school psychologist and one on-site technician for improved technology support.

It is also the first year of the five-year planning agreement between the county and the school board to smooth out the yearly fluctuations of the budget request to a consistent 3.13% increase annually.

Alongside funding from the county government, a large chunk of CCPS’s funding comes from the state, and those numbers will continue to solidify as the Maryland General Assembly session progresses. Much of that funding is formula-driven, so CCPS is able to make estimations.

The fact that enrollment seems to have stabilized is “good news for the school system,” Hartove said. In 12 of the past 13 years, CCPS enrollment was dropping. The size of a school system based on enrollment is a major factor in state funding.

“We believe it’s a good budget that makes some incremental steps forward towards our strategic plan, and also takes care of our employees,” Hartlove said.

Two stakeholders chose to make public comment.

Teresa McCulloh, president of the Carroll County Education Association (CCEA), recapped that all five BOE members and all five county commissioners attended the county local lobby night. The participation was "reassuring, supportive and appreciated,” she said.

“It is definitely evident that the creators of this budget listened to our members and the community at town halls,” she said.

But she added, “A Band-Aid is not sufficient when a wound requires sutures, an extra-strength adhesive pad, or better yet, complete healing."

She asked the school system to revisit the budget and add more positions beyond six in special education and one in school psychology. She said educators are facing needs that pile on top of teaching, including those that “involve students with behaviors, trauma students, mandated paperwork increased caseloads and incredible workloads.”

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She also called for educators to be valued as reflected through their salary.

“Our students and educators require more resources to continue with CCPS’ success,” she said.

Negotiations between CCPS and their five employee bargaining units are ongoing.

Kathryn Henn, a kindergarten teacher with more than 40 years experience, said the recent birth of two grandchildren made the issues of resources and staffing in special education, counseling, and behavioral health even more important to her.

The most recent issue of “Nea Today,” the magazine for the National Education Association, ran the cover headline“1 in 6 Students Thinks About Suicide.” Henn also recalled a recent night where Carroll County experienced three fatal overdoses in one night.

“This is why we need more staffing for our kids," Henn said. "For my kids, for your kids, for all the children.”

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