Carroll County Public Schools asked the Carroll County delegation to pay attention to school construction funding issues, proposed a local bill to defining a roles for JROTC instructors at the annual meeting Nov. 6 to discuss the school system’s legislative positions.
Delegates April Rose, Haven Shoemaker, Susan Krebs, Warren Miller and Trent Kittleman and Sen. Justin Ready joined the Carroll County Board of Education, Superintendent Steve Lockard and other representatives of CCPS.
“Our legislative positions are intentionally general,” Lockard said, at the beginning of the meeting. “And that’s to allow some flexibility as the legislative process unfolds. They focus on maximizing state operating and capital funding for Carroll County Public Schools, resisting unfunded state mandates and maintaining local board control of educational policy, which is very important to all of us.”
School construction funding
CCPS asked the state legislators to keep an eye on regulatory changes for the IRC, the Interagency Commission on School Construction, which is the independent state agency that facilitates Maryland’s school construction programs.
The changes would potentially affect the way the state contributes money to local school systems’ construction projects. CCPS had two major concerns.
The first was a proposed change to the way the IAC could make changes to the cost share formula for state contributions vs. local contribution.
If the state and local cost share chart is removed from the regulation itself, Lockard said, the commission wouldn’t require a full regulatory process to make changes to it.
Right now, that process includes a comment period for changes to the cost share. The cost share regards what percent of school system construction projects are funded by the state and which percentage are funded by local county money. This percentage differs between school systems.
IAC meetings would still be open meetings, as required by the Open Meetings Act, and can be viewed on their website in video form.
Said Lockard: “Under these regulations, they’ll be able to change [the cost share] by a vote at one of their meetings. That’s a much less formal and public manner in which to make a decision of what we consider to be great significance.”
In September, representatives from CCPS traveled to Annapolis to testify before the IAC about a proposed change that could have resulted in a steep drop in state funding for Carroll projects. The IAC voted to “hold harmless” all counties that would have potentially been affected for the next two years.
The second was a possible move to a statewide facility condition index for all public school buildings. Buildings would be ranked by age and condition and other factors used for prioritizing maintenance.
CCPS was concerned that if the state would use this ranking to decide which projects get funded first, Carroll projects would be low priority.
Jonathan O’Neal, chief of operations for CCPS said, “That is a certain kind of equity in that [ranking]. But that’s not the kind of equity that’s going to help a school system like Carroll at all, probably Howard as well. ... As all systems do, we have some variation among our schools, but overall, our schools are going to rank very well in the facility condition index, meaning they wouldn’t be anywhere near the top ranking of schools that, if this model were enacted legislatively or regulatorily, would then determine which projects go first.”
Krebs said that practice would seem to “help people that haven’t helped themselves for many years” and punish Carroll and other school systems that have kept up with maintenance.
CCPS also asked the legislators to bring a local bill to Annapolis concerning the school system’s JROTC instructors.
These employees — CCPS has four — are full-time and receive benefits, but are not included under one of the five employee associations.
O’Neal said: “By state law, unless we have a reason to exclude them from union representation, each position must be designated for representation.”
After discussion with the bargaining units and looking at precedent in other parts of the state, CCPS is proposing to include them in the Carroll County Education Association, CCEA, the local affiliate of the state teacher’s union, the Maryland State Education Association.
A local bill hearing is scheduled for Dec. 2.
During the meeting, a discussion ensued between CCPS and the legislators about the Kirwan Commission, or The Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, which was tasked with making recommendations for sweeping change to Maryland public schools. The funding for the reform has caused a rift between some fiscal conservatives, including Gov. Larry Hogan, and some education advocates including the state teachers union.
The two groups touched on the way measures passed last year have affected CCPS and discussed the increased burden on special education teachers and whether there were ways to lift that weight so they could serve their students better.
Ready said he hoped he was summarizing what a lot of the delegation felt regarding the future Kirwan legislation price tag.
“I’m not really against increasing education spending," he said. "Gov. Hogan’s increased it every year and I’ve supported his budget. What I am concerned about is this idea that we have to do all of these things, and we have to do all of it and we have to spend all of this money. And if you’re against any part of it, and nobody here is saying that, but what we’re getting statewide is if you’re against any part of it, then you don’t want to be bold and visionary. It’s like, well, I want to know, for my $4 billion, what is defining success?”
He said that he wants these metrics more clearly defined.
“How much do I need to spend per pupil in a place like Baltimore that’s struggling, that’s going to get me where I need to go? Now we know really, you can’t really answer that question exactly. But I’d like to get a little bit more specific answers than what we’re getting, which is just. ‘We need bold. Visionary. More.’”
He said the Thornton formula meant a huge influx in spending on schools and “the Kirwan Commision itself, not me Mr. Conservative Republican guy, but the Kirwan Commision says it really didn’t — it failed, because we’re behind. We’re not where we should be. And so I don’t want us to do another 10 years and $4 billion and be like ‘Oh, we’re behind.’”