The Carroll County Board of Education unanimously approved the school system’s preliminary fiscal 2024 budget request Wednesday, with board President Marsha Herbert offering an impassioned plea to parents to rally behind the request for an additional $6.7 million from the county.
“We do need your help,” Herbert said during the board’s regular monthly meeting. “If we don’t get the funding we need, this school system is going to look completely different in two years, and the changes you will see will come at the cost of your child’s education.
“I can tell you now that your child will be affected and you’re not gonna like it,” she said. “You’re gonna be upset, but I’m telling you the time is now to act. We need to do something now before this happens. We need your support now more than ever.”
Board member Donna Sivigny added that the Board of Carroll County Commissioners, which must approve the additional funding and have cast doubt on its ability to do so without raising taxes, is not an enemy of the school board, but rather a government entity with the power to help county schools.
Commissioners’ President Ed Rothstein attended a budget hearing and workshop on Feb. 1 and District 1 Commissioner Joe Vigliotti attended the school board meeting Wednesday.
“We’re not yelling at you,” Sivigny said, addressing county commissioners. “We are simply asking for your help in an untenable situation the state has put us in, so that we do not destroy the best-performing school system in the state of Maryland.”
The fiscal 2024 preliminary budget the school board approved is $37.7 million higher than the fiscal 2023 budget for Carroll County Public Schools. The increase includes $15.9 million for employee salaries, $3 million for Blueprint for Maryland’s Future requirements, $2.8 million related to inflation, $2.1 million for transportation costs, $1.4 million for increased substitute teacher rates, $1.3 million for a staffing increase and $11.2 million in state funding earmarked for programs that support compensatory education students (those whose family incomes make them eligible for the Free and Reduced-price Meals Program).
The Blueprint’s list of mandates — including free community college dual enrollment for high school students, expanded pre-kindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds from low-income households and salary boosts and professional development incentives for teachers — must be fully in place within the next 10 years, but implementation begins now. The Blueprint’s goal of promoting equity in schools is noble, Superintendent Cynthia McCabe said, but it would be more useful from a budgetary perspective for the Carroll County system to distribute funds without the restrictive nature of Blueprint’s formula.
“This means many of you will be experiencing fewer resources and larger class sizes,” Herbert said, “and that is not what we’ve had in Carroll County — large class sizes. Some schools will benefit greatly, but that will come at the cost of shifting resources, which means some schools will suffer.”
According to the draft implementation plan released by the state in October, the state will invest an additional $3.9 billion (a 45% increase) in public schools by fiscal 2034, while local governments will invest at least $700 million (an 8% increase) above pre-Blueprint levels.
Roughly 60% of education costs in Carroll are funded by the county, with about 40% of expenses coming from state sources, Carroll’s Assistant Superintendent of Operations Jonathan O’Neal said.
The approved school system budget asks the county government to make up the funding gap of $13.4 million. The county commissioners have pledged half that amount, but Herbert said the additional $6.7 million will not likely be funded if parents are not vocal in contacting commissioners to express support for the school funding increase.
During the Wednesday meeting school board members gave feedback on the first draft of the county’s Blueprint implementation plan.
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The state provided a 100-page template to which a county can add up to 100 pages of content. O’Neal said CCPS is open to feedback on the document from content to wording suggestions, although an abundance of feedback might be hard to incorporate into this year’s plan.
Carroll County will submit its implementation plan, subject to feedback from the Blueprint Accountability and Implementation Board, to the state by March 15. A version of the document must be submitted every year.
Sivigny expressed concerns that the plan overcommits, including the plan’s suggestion that new classrooms be built at every elementary school.
“I’m a little bit worried about how some of these things are worded into here and what we’re potentially committing ourselves to that we can’t follow through on,” Sivigny said.