School board talks future funding, closure transition, Career and Tech Center

The Carroll County Board of Education discussed a number of issues related to the future of the school system during a meeting that lasted more than four hours Wednesday night.

Among other things, the board was presented with a financial outlook for the school system, was updated on progress made on transitioning students affected by the closure of three schools and moved to look into construction alternatives for the Career and Tech Center.


In a presentation to the board, Assistant Superintendent of Administration Jonathan O'Neal noted the progress made by Carroll County Public Schools in creating a more financially efficient school system but told board members that he does not see any scenario in which the school system begins to get more money from the state, barring changes to the state's funding formula.

That formula, which has been the subject of much criticism by officials from a number of districts where declining enrollment has led to decreases in state funding, relies on two main factors to determine how much funding school systems get: relative wealth of the county and school enrollment.


In both areas, O'Neal said, the news is not good. Enrollment in Carroll County schools is down but wealth of the county has remained relatively stable, he said.

While many parts of the state are seeing declining public school enrollment, those with increases are finding that much of the increase is in students who are moving into Maryland from other countries, O'Neal said. Carroll County is not seeing a large increase in that area, he said, meaning there is little reason to think the decreases in students will be reversed any time soon.

As a result, he said, the school system has been left to find areas in which it can cut and create efficiencies.

In that area, O'Neal said, data show the school system has very limited options left to it.

Using figures from the state's other counties and the City of Baltimore, he told the board, Carroll ranks 19th out of 24 in staff-to-student ratio. While the system has managed to avoid major cuts to classroom teachers, the number of support staff available for those teachers lags behind many counties, he said.

The good news, Superintendent Stephen Guthrie told the board, is that the numbers reflected in O'Neal's presentation do not take into account the three schools that the board voted in December to close, so savings should increase in the coming year.

With those closures, staff throughout the school system are working to ease the transition for families affected, CCPS staff told the board.

The deadline for relocation requests for those affected by school closures was March 1, staff said. While decisions by the school system will be made by May 1, CCPS reported that a large number of requests have been for Runnymede Elementary School.

For high-schoolers affected by the closure of North Carroll High School, Kimberly Dolch, director of high schools for the county, said plans are moving forward to hold meetings with officers of clubs at North Carroll and Manchester Valley high schools in the near future, and programming involving both schools is forthcoming.

The board also decided Wednesday night that, after the board acknowledged a large amount of input from the community, Manchester Valley High would retain its name. Proposals had been made earlier in the year to rename the school as a reflection of the inclusion of North Carroll students into the student body.

Mount Airy and Northwest middle schools have held transition meetings with New Windsor Middle School parents, and Mount Airy, Northwest and Shiloh middle schools have held meetings with the county's construction department to talk about any modifications that might be needed to accommodate new students to those schools, according to a report to the board from CCPS staff.

For elementary schools, there are plans to send welcome letters to new families, as well as field trips for incoming students to visit the schools, the report said.


The board also voiced support for a plan presented most recently by the Board of Commissioners to explore scrapping the construction of a new Career and Tech Center in favor of renovating the school's current building and expanding programs into a designated wing of neighboring Westminster High School.

The plan has been promoted as a possible way to save the school system millions that would otherwise be spent on the construction of a new Career and Tech Center building.

Earlier this month, the commissioners agreed to send a request to the school board asking for its input on changing the Career and Tech Center plan.

"If we continue with the idea of building a new school, I think it's going to take us a minimum of seven years," Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, told school board members Wednesday. Rothschild serves as a nonvoting, ex-officio member of the board.

In response to the commissioners' request, the Board of Education said it would form a committee to look into the possibility of renovating the Career and Tech Center's current space and utilizing other existing space if needed, whether or not that space would be at Westminster High.

Guthrie recommended to the board that a committee be formed to look into the possibilities for the center. That committee would be composed of a county commissioner; a school board member; principals from both Westminster High and the Career and Tech Center, and other individuals related to the schools; and a state representative. A report could be completed by the committee by the end of May, Guthrie said.

For years, the Board of Education said, the school has been dealing with a backlog of students who, because of space constraints, could not be admitted into the program.

"All of us would like to see this addressed, to find a solution to this problem," said school board member Bob Lord, who said he would volunteer to serve on the committee. "Turning students away every year is really upsetting."

The Board of Education will meet again at 4 p.m. April 13.



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