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Carroll County Times
Carroll County News

School funding needs, future budget deficits top talking points at public hearing on fiscal 2023 Carroll County budget

Of about a dozen residents who spoke Tuesday night during a public hearing on the fiscal year 2023 Carroll County budget, more than half advocated for commissioners to increase their planned public-school funding.

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The Carroll Board of Education asked commissioners for $4 million in ongoing revenue above the $6.4 million the county had originally planned to provide in fiscal 2023. The school board and Superintendent Steve Lockard said that without that additional support, the school system would be unable to provide appropriate employee compensation, among other needs.

In the proposed fiscal 2023 Carroll County budget, commissioners included half of the school board’s request, setting aside $2 million above the original $6.4 million for CCPS.

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The school system receives 43.2% of the county’s budget, according to testimony from the school board, which is down from an average of 47% the previous five fiscal years.

“Given the size of our system, the cost to provide employees a 5% raise to combat inflation, as the commissioners have done with county staff, costs $11.2 million,” the school board wrote in its proposal to commissioners. A step increment for all eligible employees would cost another $5.2 million.

The school board has used one-time federal funds to pay for $1.6 million in classroom positions and has used its fund balance to pay for $817,000 in priority school-support positions.

Without ongoing revenue from the county budget, the school system would need to phase out those positions. The school board also identified $3.1 million in priorities to address mental health and behavioral support for students. The board cannot pay for those priorities without additional county funds in fiscal 2023.

At the public hearing Tuesday, Lockard thanked the school board for its support of county schools and the additional $2 million in funding proposed for fiscal 2023.

“That funding is much appreciated and necessary,” Lockard said. “We are expecting increased funding from the state under the Blueprint for America’s Future. All of that money and more will be needed to meet expectations required of us by the state under the Blueprint.”

He said in the first year, funds will be focused on meeting salary demands dictated in the Blueprint for school employees.

“The $6.4 million increase in your five-year plan will be needed to cover our inflationary increases next year along with other known expenditures,” Lockard said. “By the Board of Education’s last budget presentation, we had identified $7.8 million in known expenditures so that $6.4 million is much needed just to help cover these costs.”

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Lockard said the school system also learned that there will be a $2 million increase in local pension costs that they will have to cover.

“The additional $2 million you included in your proposed budget truly helps cover this gap,” Lockhard said.

The BOE’s overall revenue picture combined with Blueprint requirements means that all revenue beyond the known cost increases will be needed and committed to employee compensation, according to the superintendent.

“Even with all available revenue being directed to employees, we know that we won’t be competitive with the raises the surrounding school systems will be offering next year, therefore, any additional funding you could provide would be welcomed by our employees to close that gap,” Lockard said.

Teresa McCulloh, president of the Carroll County Education Association, said while public safety should always be the top priority in county government, she “sincerely hopes education is the first second.”

“We remain optimistic this Board of County Commissioners will do their part,” she said. “People move to Carroll County for the schools.”

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Another speaker, Shannon Brooks, is a CCEA member and an art teacher at Hampstead Elementary.

“I am pleased to work alongside some fantastic educators that empower our students and help them grow into outstanding, productive citizens,” she said. “However, I worry about the future of education here in Carroll County. Between teachers in other counties making significantly higher salaries and higher per pupil spending, we cannot compete.”

Brooks noted many of her colleagues have to work second or third jobs to afford housing in the county and some are even considering leaving Carroll for other districts for better pay.

“Let’s show everyone that we are and will continue to be one of the best counties for education by increasing funding for our schools,” she said.

Another issue brought up by speakers at the public hearing was a concern about budget deficits over the next five years.

Tom Gordon, a candidate for the District 3 commissioner seat, asked the board to consider holding a few additional budget work sessions.

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“We need to be fiscally conservative to look at what’s best in the overall budget for the community,” he said.

Todd Sauder, an Eldersburg resident, agreed with Gordon.

“In the budget [out years] I saw a lot of red ink,” he mentioned. “That’s pretty concerning as a resident that you’re looking into a deficit that’s going to grow rather quickly.”

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Cathey Allison of Eldersburg said commissioners should increase taxes or limit their spending.

“I know you’re caught between many budgetary demands but our constant yield rate hasn’t been changed by our Board of County Commissioners for years,” she said.

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The constant yield rate is a “property tax rate that, when applied to new assessments, will result in the taxing authority receiving the same revenue in the coming taxable year that was produced in the prior taxable year,” according to the state Department of Assessments and Taxation.

Commissioners have confirmed that there will not be any tax increases in the county in fiscal 2023, which begins July 1.

At the conclusion of Tuesday’s hearing, Commissioner President Ed Rothstein encouraged residents to continue providing feedback.

“I appreciate your thoughts, ideas, comments,” he said. “Continue to share those with us and we will continue to be as responsive as we can.”

The final adoption of the fiscal 2023 county budget will take place May 24.


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