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, 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 gap between what the school system expects to need in county funding and what the county's Board of Commissioners expects to spend could grow to more than $46 million, Carroll County Public Schools staff reported in a February meeting between the commissioners and the Board of Education.
The committee, which is composed of representatives from the school board, the Board of Commissioners and the county's delegation in Annapolis, as well as a school system parent, a union head and a local real estate agent, was formed earlier this year to look into ways to decrease that gap.
To begin that task, the group needs to establish a baseline from which to work, said Paula Singer, the facilitator hired by the county to help run the meetings.
Committee members asked for information on what funding the school system predicts it needs in future years, as well as county projections for revenue and expenditures, and an assessment on how CCPS stacks up to other systems of similar sizes and in nearby jurisdictions.
Committee member Daniel Hoff, a real estate agent who also serves on the county's Planning and Zoning Commission, said he wanted more information about the capacity of CCPS schools and how the system compares to those of other counties.
While there is a hesitation to compare Carroll's system to larger ones, like Baltimore County and Howard County, Hoff said those systems need to be included in the comparison too because they are often places people also look at when determining where they want to live.
"We kind of need to look at all angles of this problem," Hoff said. "There is a revenue issue, but there's also an issue related to the size of the system potentially being too big for the number of students you have."
Del. April Rose, R-District 5, said she wants the group to address the Career and Tech Center, which has had to turn students away because of an abundance of interest in the programs and a lack of space.
Other members asked for more information on things like school employee salaries in Carroll County compared to other counties.
Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, asked whether there are requirements on Carroll teachers that officials can try to alleviate, potentially to draw teachers to work for CCPS.
The group, he said, needs to be creative in its approach to the funding problem.
"We've got to change the dynamic a little bit, because the math is the math," Howard said.
Del. Justin Ready, R-District 5, said he hoped to bring someone in from the state Department of Legislative Services to brief the group on how the state funds education and what can be expected from that funding source in coming years.
Board of Education member Devon Rothschild, who is also on the committee, asked for more information on economic development from the county and on any effect tax cuts made by the previous Board of Commissioners during the recession had on development activity.
The county, she said, might need to address what its commitment is to growing and attracting new families.
Member Michele Rogers, an Eldersburg resident and mother of two CCPS students, said she hears often from neighbors and friends who wonder what it would take for the commissioners to raise taxes in the county.
Despite talk every year of funding problems and potential tax hikes, she said, the board never imposes an increase.
"I just want to understand why every year it's the same thing and what's going to make that change," Rogers said.
A tax increase in the county requires a supermajority. Howard said he did not feel comfortable speaking for the other four commissioners. While that makes any hike difficult, Howard said the committee was formed to look at every possible solution to the problem, so long as the solution really works.
"I think that was really the genesis for this group," Howard said.
On Wednesday, the group remained uncertain whether it will add a member of the local business community or a citizen unconnected to the school system, as had originally been planned.
The committee meets next on Aug. 3.
Latest Carroll County Education
*Editor's note: This article has been updated to reflect Commissioner Doug Howard's stated intention not to speak for the other members of the board.