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Relative savings in proposed CCPS budget praised; $4M funding gap maintained

Community members got their first glance at Superintendent Stephen Guthrie's proposed fiscal year 2018 budget, a proposal that estimates a nearly $4 million gap between what the county has planned and what schools officials might request of the county.

The Carroll County Board of Education spent a large portion of Wednesday night's monthly board meeting running through Guthrie's proposed budget, discussing how expenditures are expected to change from FY 2017. The total budget is made up of a number of key factors, including expenditures and multiple sources of revenue.

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The proposal shows a net change of 2.2 percent — a $6.9 million increase — in expenditures. The approved operating budget for FY 2016 to FY 2017, for comparison, included a net increase in expenditures of almost $7.5 million.

Carroll County Board of Education members spent an hour and a half Wednesday diving back into the school closure and redistricting process, setting a loose t

The proposal shows a more than $10.7 million expenditure increase from FY 2017's budget. The highest increase comes from salary and salary benefits, followed by costs associated with the special education program.

But the proposal also shows more than $3.8 million in expenditure decreases from FY 2017, with the highest decreases coming from hiring turnover, followed by utilities.

School officials are pleased about the amount of decreases in expenditures that have been found.

Board President Devon Rothschild said it's important to point out that some of these areas of expenditure decreases came from ideas that came out of the Combined Education Committee. These savings were reached through a cooperative effort, she said, and were done in a way that didn't hurt the classroom.

"This is a big deal," Rothschild said.

While those savings are good, said CCPS Chief Financial Officer Chris Hartlove, who gave the budget presentation, it's something they can't get used to. Those decreases in expenditures won't be recurring each year.

The budget talk Wednesday also tackled planned revenue and Guthrie's plan's proposed revenue for FY 2018.

The revenue from the county in the FY 2017 budget came in at $181,852,000, and the county currently is proposing to include $186,864,400 for CCPS in FY 2018, an increase of more than $5 million, or 2.67 percent. But the superintendent's proposed FY 2018 budget requests more than $190.8 million in county revenue, which comes to an increase of nearly $8.96 million over FY 2017 and a funding gap of nearly $4 million for FY 2018.

The county isn't the only source of revenue for the school system. But other numbers, including state funding, have not yet been released. The first look at those state numbers are expected later in the month, Hartlove said.

Board members also discussed the cutting and repurposing of 15 teacher positions, which were also outlined in Guthrie's plan to align with declining enrollment.

Repurposed teachers could shift to roles including behavior support specialists, special education resource teachers, teachers for gifted and talented students, math resource teachers, and career and technology teachers.

While the relative need for each of those roles for repurposed teachers is undetermined, Guthrie did say that in talking to principals, behavior support specialists were at the top of their lists.

Board members will come back to discuss this proposed budget a number of times over the next few months. The Board of Education is set for an operating budget hearing followed by a work session at 6 p.m. Jan. 25, an operating budget hearing at 7 p.m. Feb. 1 and finally a budget adoption meeting at 4 p.m. Feb. 22.

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Other topics discussed

The more than four-hour board meeting also looked into issues including the Evergreen Solutions LLC study that was found with major errors last month, as well as the recent results of water testing at schools that showed elevated levels of lead.

The Evergreen study looked into employee compensation, among other items, in regard to CCPS. In October 2015, the Board of Education issued a request for a comprehensive classification and compensation study, which was issued to Evergreen Solutions LLC in January. The school board eventually voted 4-1 — with board member Donna Sivigny in opposition — to move forward to "terminate for convenience," an option in the contract agreement. This means the board will split the original price of more than $74,000, negotiating to pay $37,250 to Evergreen and keep only the portions of the study — such as teacher classification — that were error-free, and not use the portions — such as teacher compensation — that were found to have errors.

After presenting and releasing the more than $70,000 compensation and classification study last week, Carroll County Public Schools have had to pull the Evergreen Solutions, LLC study.

After water results came back this month showing elevated levels of lead and copper in some school water fountains, bubblers and kitchen sinks Guthrie said the school system worked quickly to either replace the fixtures or take them out of service. At this point, he said, all water fountains have been dealt with. After communication issues, Guthrie said the school system worked to put out a news release, consolidate the results and put them all on the school website's homepage. Guthrie also said that while there have been conversations with the Carroll County Health Department, the department is unwilling to speculate about health concerns because there are a number of unknown factors.

Test results show seven schools had failing bubblers or water fountains, 26 schools had failing fixtures in school kitchens and seven schools passed all water tests.

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