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CCPS asks for more special education resources in proposed budget; here’s how to weigh in

The budget process for Carroll County Public Schools began last week with a proposal that asks for more special education resource teachers, school psychologists and on-site technicians, and competitive salaries for employees.

Two public hearings will be held where residents can make their priorities for the operating budget known.

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Both hearings will take place in the boardroom at the CCPS offices, at 125 N. Court St. in Westminster, on Jan. 22 at 7 p.m. and Feb. 5 at 6 p.m. A work session on the budget will follow the Feb. 5 meeting.

At the Board of Education’s meeting Wednesday, Superintendent Steve Lockard said, “If I could do all things at once, you know I certainly would."

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The proposed budget aims to follow the school system’s strategic plan and be “deliberative about how we use the county’s resources,” he said.

Staff highlighted requests for eight new positions within CCPS.

Six new special education resources teachers are requested, with the goal to “support meeting the needs of students in accordance with their individualized education plans,” according to a budget summary distributed at the meeting.

The request also included one new school psychologist “to meet growing mental health needs of students” and one new on-site technician “to improve technology support in the school buildings.”

Competitive salaries are also listed as a priority focus in the budget. Collective bargaining with the employee associations was ongoing, so an exact number was not available.

At town hall-style meetings held throughout the fall, support for special education educators and compensation for employees were among the top priorities, said Christopher Hartlove, chief financial officer for CCPS.

At the local level, the request for financial year 2021 is a 3.13% increase over FY2020. This is the rate that the school system and the county government settled on when they agreed last year to “smooth” the budget request over five years.

Both sides have said that the move adds more stability and ability to plan ahead to the budget process.

In dollars, this means a $203.42 million proposed request from the county, an increase of about $6.17 million over FY20.

At the state level, CCPS predicts about $137 million in unrestricted revenue. More exact numbers will come as the governor’s budget is released to the Maryland General Assembly.

Overall, CCPS is predicting a $9.67 million, or 2.88%, increase in unrestricted revenues.

Other funding is known as “restricted revenue" at the state and federal level. This funding is already earmarked for a specific purpose, so it is not up to CCPS to decide where to allot it in the budget.

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One example of restricted revenue is the $2.77 million in Blueprint for Maryland’s Future grants CCPS received in FY20. These funds were restricted to uses that included a mental health coordinator position in CCPS, raises for teachers and expansion of the pre-kindergarten program.

During the Board of Education discussion Wednesday, board members Kenneth Kiler and Marsha Herbert praised CCPS staff for undertaking zero-based budgeting. Hartlove said in a follow-up interview that the process began in late August or early September. Departments were asked to not base their budget on the previous year’s request. Instead, they were asked to evaluate their requests alongside the school system’s strategic plan and shift dollars to the most high-priority items.

Lockard also said that he didn’t want the public to think that the only items related to the strategic plan CCPS is undertaking were the eight employee positions. He cited the school system’s performance academies and recently launched data dashboards as examples of “internal resource efforts being focused in different ways.”

Hartlove said of the proposed budget, “In my time here, this is probably one of the better starting places we’ve been.”

The budget contains no reductions in staff positions. In context, CCPS cut 375.7 full-time positions between FY10 and FY19 in order to balance the budget, totaling about $25 million.

Other reductions, many in the area of maintenance, totaled $10.8 million.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, ex-officio member of the school board at the meeting, said this feeling at the start of the budget process “changes the attitude of the whole entire county” by “getting rid of the anxiety and fighting that we did for so many years,” he said.

The Board of Education’s full discussion of the proposed operating budget is available online at carrollk12.org under “Board of Education” and “Meeting Videos.”

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