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Carroll County Public Schools could lose more than $4 million because of enrollment drop

Carroll County’s Board of Education typically discusses financial priorities for next fiscal year’s school budget around this time of year. However, most of Wednesday’s budget work session was centered around recovering financially from a decrease in enrollment this school year.

“Hopefully it’s just a speed bump and not a pothole,” Superintendent Steve Lockard said.

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Carroll County Public Schools estimate the school system will lose $4.1 million due to losing hundreds of students to home-schooling and private schools. CCPS officials are hoping the state provides funding to help with enrollment declines. The school system’s total budget was slightly more than $370 million for FY21.

CCPS has 24,568 students enrolled for the 2020-2021 school year, which is 777 less than the year prior, according to data Karl Streaker, director of student services, provided the Times.

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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.

Chris Hartlove, the CCPS chief financial officer, said enrollment is the biggest driver in revenue. And the drop of more than 700 students will result in $4.1 million less than what they received for the current fiscal year.

Past enrollment declines have happened as part of a trend, but this decline is an anomaly, Hartlove 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.

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Hartlove said the plan for fiscal 2021 was to increase revenue by $6.1 million but the actual increase was $1.2 million. They also planned to increase by $6.2 million for fiscal 2022, but he assumes they will gain less than that.

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.

“The bad thing about this is … as we believe, next fall, the enrollment will be bouncing back, we would, at the same time, we would be losing revenue,” he said.

Funds for next school year could be based on the enrollment for this school year regardless of next year’s enrollment numbers.

Hartlove said when enrollment declined in the past, they could reduce some of expenses. But they wouldn’t be able to do that in this case. It would put them “in a bind,” Hartlove said, and result in larger class sizes and less services for students.

That would be the worst-case scenario.

He said the good news is that declines are happening across the state. Approximately 33,000 expected students did not enroll in public schools and legislators said the state may implement a “hold harmless” provision that would give Maryland districts a one-time payment of recovery funds, according to Hartlove.

He said it’s not ideal but it’s something they can work with.

He later told the board they believe “a good number” of students will return to the public schools after the pandemic.

Board president Donna Sivigny asked if there is data to show where the students went. And Jon O’Neal, chief of operations, said a large number of students became home-schooled or transferred to private schools.

“Beyond that, it’s a little bit speculative,” O’Neal said.

Fellow board member Marsha Herbert said she thinks the school system lost students because private schools are open five days a week.

Hartlove said the biggest issue on the expense side, other than salaries, are inflation impacts, that could range between $1.5 million and $3.5 million. He said it could affect medical insurance, utilities in the school buildings and bus fuel. He added that negotiations with bargaining groups are also an unknown at the moment.

The chief financial officer said money from the county would be useful and Sivigny said they are working to meet with county commissioners in early January.

The superintendent is scheduled to have a proposed budget in January, the governor is expected to release his budget Jan. 20 and Carroll’s board of education is scheduled to adopt an official budget in February.

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