During the budget season, it was said that the funding gap between what Carroll County government expects to spend on schools and what Carroll County Public Schools predicts it will need in local funding could grow to more than $46 million in the next few years.
Funding issues and declining enrollment have led to the closing of three schools in the last year. In December, the Carroll Board of Education voted 4-1 to approve Superintendent Stephen Guthrie's recommendation to close North Carroll High, New Windsor Middle and Charles Carroll Elementary schools at the end of the 2015-2016 school year.
Earlier versions of the plans called for the closure of two other schools — Mount Airy and Sandymount elementaries — but Guthrie did not recommend those for closure. Carroll school officials said the closures would save more than $5 million per year.
With the continued discussion about solving the funding gap, a committee composed of board of education members, county commissioners, state officials and community members has been meeting since June.
The Combined Education Committee met most recently on Oct. 20 and broke into four subcommittees to study compensation, taxes, building usage and efficiency, and the possibility of audits to gather more information and move closer to decisions.
Four candidates are running for two seats on the nonpartisan Carroll County Board of Education. They are retired Carroll County schools teacher Marsha Herbert, of Westminster; Howard County teacher Julie Kingsley, of Mount Airy; former Carroll County schools instructional assistant Mary Kowalski, of Westminster; and actuary Donna Sivigny, of Finksburg.
The Times reached out to all four candidates to ask what they believe needs to be done to close the funding gap and what specifically they would do, if elected to the school board, to achieve that. This is the first question in a five-day series leading up to the start of early voting, which runs Oct. 27 to Nov. 3. Election day is Nov. 8. The candidates were asked to respond in 150 words or less.
I will work closely with our Delegation and our County Commissioners on the issue of adequate funding, whether the source be state or local. The BOE needs to consider any CEC recommendations, and also needs to take a hard look at the inefficiencies in its operations.
We need to take steps to grow and thrive. With an aging population, declining school enrollment and insufficient revenue to support essential public services, Carroll County needs a comprehensive plan and specific targets to attract businesses and young families to this area. Reasonable, sustainable growth is a long-term goal but vital for our future.
In the short term, we should continue to look for efficiencies in the schools, find efficiencies in county government, and consider options for raising revenue to meet our immediate funding needs. All options must be on the table. If we want to maintain our public services at an acceptable level, we have to pay for them.
As a school board member, I will work hard to ensure CCPS maintains high-quality schools as a selling point for new residents. And I will cultivate the tremendous educational and economic resource we have in the Career and Tech Center.
To close the gap between needed funds and available funds, we need to take a much closer look at where the money is going. The Board of Education has been plagued for years by questions regarding the improper expenditure of taxpayer money. In 2008, a new high school was built, almost twice as big as it needed to be built. This benefited no one — except, of course, the construction contractors.
In 2015, our board of ed voted to close three schools. Yet, now they have a new $86 million school in the budget, and they are discussing another new mega-school for kindergarten through eighth grade. All of this points to corruption. Our school children, our families and our taxpayers deserve accountability. If I am elected, I will work hard to prevent corruption and waste in the expenditure of public school funds.
I have submitted a plan to the CEC providing long-term vision for the school system. We must optimize the resources we already have, while improving student achievement.
Key concepts include: keep all elementary schools open to better service our rural communities, keep sixth-graders in the elementary school model, consolidate our middle schools with only seventh- and eighth-graders, and utilize available high school classroom space throughout the county to expand Career and Tech access for classroom-based programs. This optimizes elementary school utilization, promotes young families to move to the area, reduces capital needs on poor-condition buildings, and based on research I've gathered … improves student achievement and reduces bullying in schools. If implemented strategically and effectively, this concept has the potential to significantly reduce, even eliminate the projected funding gap.
I will work with all key stakeholders to make decisions that are in the best interest of our students and communities.