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Education committee looks at special programs, prepares to have 'tough conversations'

The county's newly formed Combined Education Committee will begin discussions on where the county and school system stand on funding as early as next month. On Wednesday, July 20, the committee met to lay out a plan for presentations from county staff that will delineate for committee members the current situation in the county.

The Combined Education Committee continued to look at different angles of the issues surrounding schools funding on Wednesday, specifically looking at special programs costing the school system.

The committee's meeting, held about two months after the group was assembled, ended without a presentation of specific solutions to the system's widescale problems, leading some committee members to express concern.

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The committee is tasked with taking a closer look at problems with lacking finances, enrollment and economic development in Carroll County Public Schools.

The gap between what the school system expects to need in county funding and what the Board of County Commissioners expects to spend could grow to more than $46 million, CCPS staff reported in a February meeting between the commissioners and the Board

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The Combined Education Committee met for the third time Wednesday to hear presentations on school enrollment and budget data.

of Education. The committee, which includes representatives from the school board, the Board of Commissioners and the county's delegation to Annapolis, as well as other members of the community, was formed earlier this year to look into ways to decrease that gap.

"There are some tough conversations that we need to have," said Daniel Hoff, a committee member and a real estate agent who also serves on the county Planning and Zoning Commission.

Most agreed the committee has been in an information-gathering stage — something that continued this week — but believe the time is rapidly approaching to start making concrete suggestions.

The county's Combined Education Committee will begin discussions on county and school system funding as early as next month.

But Wednesday's focus looked closer at Non-Traditional Education Programs, such as PRIDE, Saturday school, Behavioral and Educational Support Team, and Birth Through Five programs. CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie discussed the programs and the successes they've had, in addition to looking at the costs they put on the school system.

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Programs like Post Secondary Continuum and Birth Through Five fall under federal mandates, though, as discussed in Wednesday's meeting, they aren't always fully funded on a state or federal level, something that leaves the county with picking up the rest of the tab.

Guthrie gave a presentation looking at student enrollment totals, staffing reduction percentages and enrollment comparisons between other school systems statewide, items covered in the previous meeting.

Student enrollment has been on a decline, Guthrie said. And while other counties have had declines, some of them have fluctuated back and forth. Carroll has only had a downtick, he said.

"It's a decrease every year," Guthrie said. "Straight down."

In the end, though, closing schools, cutting teachers, scaling back on programs — they won't solve all of the problems, Guthrie said.

"It's just not all about cutting," he said.

Steven Aquino, a committee member and Westminster-based financial adviser, asked if there are grants that could help the schools. Guthrie responded, that when it comes to grants, they have to look at sustainability. It doesn't make sense to try to fund programs with grants that only last a year, he said.

And, Guthrie said, the cutting of programs that aren't mandated by the state would likely hurt graduation rates and student success, because many of the programs are helping those who might struggle in traditional school settings.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said they need to take a look at what other counties are doing. They are able to provide raises and continue to flourish, he said, something Carroll has been missing.

What it comes down to, Howard added, is the county needs to see growth — economically and in population. A thousand families, with kids to attend schools, could make the difference, he said.

"We gotta get people coming here again," Howard said. "We are not selling the community."

410-857-7862

twitter.com/emilychappell13

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