For the first time since the new Board of Carroll County Commissioners and Board of Education were seated, the two agencies held a joint work session Tuesday, Feb. 5.
The two boards noted the tensions from the past and said the move would be the beginning of quarterly meetings to work on building trust and understanding between the two groups.
“I think there’s been a very long history of our boards doing a lot of finger-pointing, a lot of contention,” said BOE President Donna Sivigny at the meeting, which was held at the Carroll County Office Building in Westminster. “I think there’s been a general degradation of society with lack of respect and civility, and having these conversations out in the open, we can do this well.
“We’ve got a lot of fresh faces and new perspectives,” she said. “I think we can work collaboratively and just do this better going forward.”
Sivigny said the operational budget, the topic of Tuesday’s conversation, should be a negotiation where “both sides walk away a little bit happy, a little bit unhappy with no significant winners or losers.
“In the past everyone walked away incredibly unhappy on both sides of the table,” she said. “Let’s not avoid or skirt the difficult issues; we definitely have to have the difficult discussions. Let’s just do this in a civil way that ends well for us all.”
Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said his main concern with Superintendent Steve Lockard’s proposed budget — almost $335 million total with $201.3 million requested from the county — is the request for 29 more positions, knowing compensation is the No. 1 priority. The 29 new positions include 11 elementary school academic specialists, seven middle school academic specialists, four special education resource teachers, three school psychiatrists, two intervention specialists and two on-site technicians.
Last year’s approved budget was around $331.9 million, with about $192.4 million coming from county government.
“I'm a little bit disappointed by the fact that you're even putting those positions in there,” Wantz said. “For me its always been about getting our teachers the best compensation. [New positions] should be secondary.”
He said teachers need to be compensated more, and adding personnel is not the way to achieve that.
“I'm telling you right now, Mr. Wantz and commissioners,” BOE Vice President Marsha Herbert said, “I'm in those classrooms. Those elementary school teachers need help, and we have cut, cut, cut, and I have to thank [Carroll County Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Chris] Hartlove and his crew for doing an unbelievable job of cutting the past few years.
“But I'm telling you: We do have a priority of our teachers being compensated, but we also see our teachers need to be compensated in the classroom,” she said. “We are dealing with a different type of child now and sometimes we are like a parent to them. Those teachers need help and I'm glad we put those [positions] in there because of the situation and the crisis in the elementary school system. We have cut for so many years; it’s time to step up, and we need to help those elementary teachers.”
Lockard said that he decided to put the positions in the budget so that the awareness of the need would be there, and if there is only one teacher position added — or a few, or none — the point will still have been made that it’s a goal.
“Having competitive salaries attracts the best; I want to keep the best here in Carroll County Public Schools standing in front of our students, and supporting our students each and every day,” Lockard said. “That’s going to be a large part of our budget proposal.
“I fully recognize that anticipating 29 positions is not achievable,” he said. “We took a lot of time to gather feedback from all over the county. I’ve been listening … and I’ve especially been listening to teachers [say] that, along with compensation, ‘I need help: Our service caseload is larger; we have different needs than we had 10 years ago.’
“There are greater challenges, so when we looked at our plan we tried to put together some things to at least consider as we move forward.”
Lockard showed the commissioners the Maryland State Department of Education ranking list of public schools by county. Results from the new Maryland Report Card scoring system found 95 percent of Carroll schools receiving four- or five-star ratings in December — but rankings when it comes to student-teacher ratios are much lower.
According to MSDE data compiled from Maryland’s 23 counties and Baltimore City, Lockard explained CCPS ranks 10th in student-teacher ratio, 22nd in noninstructional staff, 19th in classroom aides and 23rd in other instructional personnel.
After cutting staff for years, the BOE wants to begin replenishing faculty.
“We feel our job is to realistically share what our needs are in the school system,” Herbert said. “Certainly we have as a priority compensation of our teachers and our staff members because we all acknowledge that's the No. 1 bang for the buck, quality of the teacher in the classroom. We certainly want to support and make sure we are getting the best and keeping the best in front of our students.
“It’s not really frosting on the cake, so to speak,” she said. “These are positions that could really impact instruction in the classroom.”
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, asked if any of the requested positions would go toward battling the opioid crisis — to which Lockard and Sivigny explained psychologists and intervention therapists would.
“The epidemic is putting a strain on everyone,” Bouchat said. “I'm sure it’s putting a strain on everything at the schools. We can see what we can do.”
Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, and the liaison to the Board of Education, said: “We are just getting ready to put our budget together; we don't know where the state’s [funding level is] going to be.”
“It’s very difficult to project everything,” Weaver continued, “but I really appreciate your attention and focus. We are going to do our best to help.”
The two boards decided to hold quarterly meetings to strengthen the relationship between the two bodies, especially as the budget season approaches.
In addition to discussions about Lockard’s budget, the boards also heard presentations from the Maryland Association of Boards of Education and Hartlove to get into more detail on what is happening at the state level and CCPS statistics. The entire meeting can be viewed online through the Carroll County Government Meeting Portal and Video Archive.
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More information on the proposed CCPS budget can be found on the Financial Services section of the CCPS website.