With one dissenting vote, Carroll County’s Board of Commissioners approved granting the Board of Education an additional $1 million to fund bonuses for school staff on the condition the school system matches the funds.
Commissioner Eric Bouchat, R-District 4, voted against the motion at Tuesday afternoon’s proposed budget work session, citing a drop in student enrollment as his reasoning for wanting to hold off. In November, Carroll County Public Schools reported 777 fewer students enrolled for the 2020-21 school year than the previous year.
“Some of those students I don’t think we’ll ever get back,” he said. “I’m just not willing to entertain any additional funds at this point.”
During Tuesday’s session, other commissioners were initially hesitant to approve the additional funds after Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, suggested giving the school system “some one-time money” to use for employee salary bonuses.
“They’ve gone through an interesting year,” he said.
The recommended operating budget plan for the county called for the school system to receive $204.6 million, sticking with an agreement to increase funding by 3.13%, which works out to $6.2 million. The Board of Education proposed a budget in which the county funding would increase by $11.4 million or 5.7%, to be at the level in fiscal year 2022 that was agreed upon before COVID-19.
A prepandemic plan created by both boards called for funding for CCPS to increase by 3.13% every year, which included a $203.4 million request for FY21 and $209.8 million for FY22. However, after the pandemic hit, the commissioners allocated only $198.4 million for FY21.
“No department has come to us and asked us for the money they didn’t get last year,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R- District 1, said. “If indeed salaries were their number one priority then that should have been something that they did to make sure that every penny went to that.”
Commissioner Dennis Fraizer, R-District 3, said he “would hope they would use that money for people in the schools” with contract positions rather than the administration. He said he’d be willing to give them $1 million if they are “specifically looking at the people who are not getting any steps.”
After some discussion. commissioners agreed all school staff, excluding administration, should be able to receive a bonus.
“We’ve got $1.7 million left on our bottom line and they have $14 million in their rainy day fund,” Wantz said. “You suggest we take all of ours … when they could easily do what you’re suggesting.”
Ted Zaleski, director of management and budget for the county, pointed out “right now on current projections,” the county will have $8.8 million of unassigned fund balance, subject to how the year ends.
“If they match it then give it to them,” Frazier said, noting “15% of teachers aren’t getting anything with a step.”
Later in the meeting, Superintendent of Schools Steven Lockard emailed commissioners, assuring them the school system would at least match the $1 million for the use of providing bonuses to school staff, not administration.
The commissioners will hold their last budget work session on Thursday before the FY22 budget adoption on May 25.