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Board of County Commissioners hear presentations from Carroll education to ag to health

In preparation for this year’s budget season, the Board of County Commissioners listened to a third series of agency presentations on Thursday, Jan. 31, hearing from Carroll schools, agriculture and health sectors.

Carroll County Public Schools, Carroll Community College and the Ag Extension Office discussed what their priorities and achievements are, there was a presentation on gypsy moth management, and both the Department of Social Services and Carroll County Health Department shared their needs and focuses going into fiscal year 2020.

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“Carroll County Public Schools is an outstanding school system. I am so proud to be here in this role, and I’m a proud product of this school system,” said first-year Superintendent Steve Lockard.

“What I knew as a kid growing up here, and a graduate of Westminster High School, is there are outstanding people not just in the school system, but in this community.”

He said he looks forward to detailed budget discussions with the Board of County Commissioners at the joint meeting it will have with the Board of Education from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 5, at the County Office Building, and gave an overview of what he has identified as CCPS priorities this year.

Lockard said CCPS consistently achieves high state rankings and has a high graduation rate — and many of the schools received five-star ratings in the Maryland State Department of Education 2018 report card.

But after cutting staff for years and not being able to replace faculty and staff in a way that meets changing student needs, he said getting more staff into the system and offering fair employee compensation are the two most important things to look forward to.

According to MSDE data compiled from Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore city, Lockard explained CCPS ranks 10th in student-teacher ratio, 22nd in non-instructional staff, 19th in classroom aides and 23rd in other instructional personnel.

“That's been some of our challenge,” he said. “You hear our teachers talk about some of the supports they need — that's one of the reasons we brought the positions into the conversation. We’ve had to sustain lots of cuts and our students’ needs are changing.”

Carroll Community College

James Ball, president of Carroll Community College, said the school has served 136,847 students since 1993, that one-quarter of the students are first-generation college students, and that costs are roughly half the price of tuition as at the University System of Maryland.

The college’s focuses going into FY20 will be: creating new programs, expanding dual enrollment with CCPS, improving student progress, and improving systems for recruitment and retention, he said.

“Our retention rate is the highest it’s been [at 72 percent],” he said. “We are consistently in the top three for graduation rate [in the state].”

Ball said things are also looking good at the school financially — with no tuition increase this year, a savings of $826,000 from FY16, and the Community College Promise Scholarship, which offers loans and grants for qualifying high school graduates.

But there are challenges, he said, which include a decrease in traditional college-age students; increased costs of health care, equipment and technology; campus police; and the inability to offer competitive salaries.

Regarding the budget, the college president said Carroll Community College will be asking to continue the yearly 3 percent increase in county base funding it has been receiving as part of the five-year plan — an increase of $302,540 in funding from the county — which will account for a 0.9 percent increase in the college’s total budget.

Ag Extension Office

Mandeep Virk-Baker, the northern area extension director at University of Maryland, and other staff told the the commissioners Thursday about what is coming out of the Ag Extension Office.

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“It’s a statewide, non-formal education system housed within the college of agriculture and natural resources at College Park, and it was established in 1914,” Virk-Baker explained.

Their programming includes family and consumer sciences, horticulture and master gardening, 4-H youth development and more, she said, which encourage students to use their skills in the community, and increase their quality of life.

The extension also offers local nutrient and insect management, the Small Stock Poultry Expo, and agricultural education for kids.

"As the leader for northern cluster, my goal is to maintain and develop new collaborations locally and cluster-wide,” Virk-Baker said.

Department of Agriculture Forest Pest Management

Regional entomologist Tom Lupp told the board about what his office is doing to mitigate and prevent damage from gypsy moths across Carroll, Frederick, Howard and eastern Washington counties.

“The gypsy moth is an invasive insect who in its larval stage eats the leaves of a wide variety of hardwoods and conifers,” Lupp said. “During severe outbreaks, forests can be 100 percent defoliated in June when trees should be producing the most energy.”

The office does regional surveys to see how many gypsy moths it can expect each year, and counties are expected to handle 50 percent of those costs on county- and private-owned land, he said.

“A tree needs its leaves to produce energy to grow and stores that energy in the roots. When it’s defoliated in June — which is not typical — the tree makes an attempt to put out a new set of leaves in July. So it’s using stored root energy to put those leaves out, and around here July is usually hot and dry, not very conducive for the production of leaves,” he said.

“So the tree goes into the winter in an energy deficit and there’s stress … and then insects and diseases attack those trees.”

The department handles other invasive species as well, but the gypsy moth is the main concern in Carroll County, which has seen the moths in 351 acres out of 543 eligible wooded areas, he said.

Department of Social Services

The Department of Social Services presentation was headed by its director, Vicky Keller, who said understanding the department is as easy as “A, B, C.”

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“A,” she said, represents vulnerable adults, “B” represents benefits, and “C” represents children and their families.

Social services served 397 vulnerable adults in FY18 through its programs: adult protective services, social services to adults, in-home aide services, adult guardianship and respite for 2019.

And it has offered benefits including: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, temporary cash assistance, temporary disability assistance, medical assistance and child care subsidies. The department has greeted 2,200 customers monthly, processed 500 multi-program applications monthly, and 98 percent of eligible county residents are enrolled in the Maryland Health Connection.

A total of 5,245 households received SNAP benefits in 2018, Keller said, with $1.1 million issued to SNAP customers monthly. Temporary cash assistance was provided to 406 people, and 114 were gainfully employed while receiving assistance.

In its work for children, Keller said the department investigated 885 cases of maltreatment last year, about 73 new cases each month.

“That’s a great deal of work happening for each one of those staff members,” she said. “Our cases are becoming much more complex and safety concerns are much higher now than they were.”

She said their work would not be possible without collaboration with other agencies.

Wantz asked how Carroll compares to surrounding jurisdictions.

“We are about average,” Keller said. “We see an influx during certain parts of the year, and with the partial [federal government] shutdown we increased certain programs in order to accommodate any of the federal workers who need to come in for those services.”

In the coming year, Keller said the department will be focused on staff health and well-being, foster parent recruitment and the new Maryland computer system rollout.

Carroll County Health Department

Health Officer Ed Singer told the commissioners the relationship the Health Department has with Carroll Hospital, the Partnership for a Healthier Carroll County and Access Carroll is like a “four-headed monster.”

One of the biggest issues they have been tackling, he said, is the opioid crisis.

The Health Department has been able to do that through mobile crisis services, school programs, awareness signs, expanding screening, brief intervention, referral to treatment and peer services at Carroll Hospital.

He thanked the commissioners for allotting $300,000 to the Not in Carroll initiative.

Another issue for the agency that will come up during budget season is that it is an off-budget state agency, Singer said, meaning the negotiated contracts through collective bargaining with the state for a lot of staff is not paid for by the state.

“Early in my tenure as a health officer, because of pay raises, we ended up with a deficit we couldn’t cover,"’ said Singer, “and we had to talk about which services we were going to cut back on.”

For example, he said, the Department of Social Services is an on-budget agency so the pay raises for their staff come in the state budget.

“Ours do not,” said Singer, “and we have to figure out whether we are pulling that from county funding, core funding or eliminating programs based on which state employees salaries are negotiated at the state level.”

The presentations in their entirety can be viewed through the Carroll County Government Meeting Portal and Video Archive, including the presentations which followed during the BOCC afternoon session: Historical Society of Carroll County, Human Services Programs Inc., Carroll Media Center and Mosaic Community Services.

Previous presentations from Jan. 10 and Jan. 17 are also available. Access Carroll, Rape Crisis, CHANGE Inc., Target Inc. and Flying Colors of Success presented on Jan. 10; and Soil Conservation, Family & Children’s Services, Union Mills Homestead, Carroll County Election Board, The Arc of Carroll County and the Youth Service Bureau presented on Jan. 17.

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