Carroll County Public Schools lost hundreds of students this school year.
CCPS has 24,568 students enrolled for the 2020-2021 school year, which is 777 less than the year prior, according to data the school system provided. Because of the funding formula in place, a drop in enrollment could mean a drop in funding from county government that could run into the millions.
The sixth grade class saw the biggest decline in enrollment with 162 students less than the previous school year. The next highest were high school juniors with 158 students less, then the second-graders with 143 students less than last school year.
“We attribute a lot of this to the pandemic,” Karl Streaker, director of student services, said. “We have experienced declining enrollment in Carroll County before, but I think the rate of this decline in such a short period … is not consistent with anything we experienced.”
He said the majority of the students who left CCPS moved to either a private school or to home-schooling.
Streaker said in the past they could project whether enrollment would head up or down the following year. Prior to the pandemic, CCPS was expecting an increase.
“But we’re not surprised to see the numbers go down based on present circumstances,” he said.
Carroll public schools’ approved fiscal 2021 budget documents state the school system was expecting, prior to the pandemic, the 2020-2021 school year to have 25,276 students. At that time, the 2019-2020 enrollment count was at 25,166. At that point, it was projected enrollment would increase in 2021-22 by 238 students.
Streaker said he anticipates enrollment will go back up once classes are in-person and five days a week again.
For the current $371.4 million budget, local government contributed $207.2 million. As enrollment dropped, so could the local funding for fiscal 2022.
“I would say that we have benefited from a wonderful relationship with the county commissioners,” Streaker said. “I’m hoping that they will continue making the school system a priority.”
Christopher Hartlove, the school system’s chief financial officer, said maintenance of effort is a state law with the intentions to give counties an increase in funding every year.
Local government is required to provide, on a per pupil basis, at least as much funding for the local school system as was provided in the prior fiscal year, according to a document form the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.
“If enrollment is going down, the county could reduce the amount you get,” he said.
He said a funding formula determined the school system could receive less than $8,000 for each student. And a 777 student drop could result in a “multimillion dollar reduction for us.”
Hartlove said the county commissioners have always been good to the school system, and he’s hopeful the state will produce legislation that will give the school system some financial relief. If there isn’t, he hopes the nearly 800 students will return.
In 2006, the public schools peaked in enrollment, Hartlove said, then steadily declined over the next 10 years. He said it could be because of the recession and the amount of school-aged children were in the area. It eventually went back up, and there are more school-aged children in the area than there were 10 years ago.
Commissioner President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said maintenance of effort will come into play during upcoming budget talks. He said that with the uncertainty around the budget for the upcoming fiscal year and the constraints of all fiscal activity, “we will be watching [enrollment] very closely.”
“I understand it’s a huge challenge,” Wantz said. “They’re not the only ones who’s going to experience true challenges.”
Wantz said the commissioners will assist in any way they can but there will be some “rough seas ahead” and “every penny is going to be incredibly important.”