School facilities and future budget unknowns stemming from anticipated legislation and predicted economic recession were discussed at the joint meeting of the Board of County Commissioners and Board of Education on Thursday.

One school in the southeast area of the county, predicted to cross 120% capacity in the next few years, is leading officials to consider redistricting in that area.

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Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, asked for more information from the school system about Freedom Elementary School being over capacity. He said he became aware of the issue after discussion about a proposed residential development in Eldersburg called Mineral Hill.

The project was discussed at a Carroll County Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing Aug. 20, which can be viewed on video through the county’s online meeting portal. The proposed development ran into roadblocks because of a county policy called the Concurrency Management and Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance. It states that, “Any subdivision located in a school attendance boundary that is determined to be inadequate will be placed in a development queue.” The proposed development would have been served by Freedom Elementary.

The school was categorized as “inadequate” to house its capacity in the most recent annual enrollment projections and analysis report to the school system. The school is projected to hit 120% capacity or greater by 2021. Freedom is the only school in CCPS projected to be inadequate, according to the most recent Educational Facilities Master Plan (EFMP) for the school system. The document can be viewed online at www.carrollk12.org/admin/facilities/planning/documents/forms/allitems.aspx.

The state-rated capacity for the school is 502 students. Enrollment for 2018 was 540 students, putting the school at 107.6% capacity. If it reaches the projected enrollment for 2021, that will be 612 students, or 121.9% capacity.

The school has four portable classrooms, but those do not count toward capacity calculations because they are considered temporary measures.

The recommendation to the superintendent from the most recent EFMP was to “form a Redistricting Committee to explore redistricting options in the Southeast Area to alleviate overcrowding at Freedom Elementary.”

Rothstein said it was important for the community to know about the redistricting committee’s timeline and about the potential impact on Freedom and other schools in the feeder system. He asked the school system to communicate this in a “deliberate and straightforward” way.

Superintendent Steve Lockard said the committee has just been named but not yet formed. It will have a year to research and make a report.

The school system has every intention of communicating through the whole committee process, Board of Education President Donna Sivigny said. Previous projections showed capacity issues at Freedom would work themselves out, but through the EFMP process it became clear that they needed to form a redistricting committee to look at all options.

“We’re following the process," Sivigny said, "but I think we just need to over-communicate it so everybody knows what’s happening and where we stand.”

She summarized the duty of the committee as weighing the financial and community impacts of putting an addition on Freedom Elementary versus redistricting in that concentrated area.

The school board passed the EFMP at its June meeting after bringing it to the county’s planning commission and undertaking a public hearing. Based on that long-term document, school system staff are annually tasked with drawing up a Capital Improvement Program (CIP) to address the facility needs identified in the EFMP. School board members expect to see a draft of the CIP at their Sept. 11 meeting.

Kirwan uncertainty

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, said that uncertainty about funding obligations from the next round of state-level education legislation prompted by the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, commonly known as the Kirwan Commission, is making it so “everything we’re doing in the county is pretty much on hold."

Wantz said they expect the next legislative session to bring an adjustment in the formula that determines how much money local school systems get from the state.

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Sivigny said that when Del. Susan Krebs asked what recommendations Carroll delegates could bring to Annapolis, school board members asked them to advocate for the state funding formula to incorporate inflation.

“That’s what killed us over the lean years,” Sivigny said.

The two boards also revisited a call to action the commissioners made during the summer’s annual budget process. They asked that the school system begin aligning its budget with a five-year operating plan, as the county does with its budget.

Lockard said the school system does not have a finalized five-year plan. They are looking at their strategic plan, employee compensation numbers and community feedback as they put one together.

Drug education

Chris Tobias, assistant supervisor of health for CCPS, updated the commissioners on some of the new and continuing programs for drug awareness and education in the county.

Programs catered to the age of the student start in kindergarten, where lessons cover medicine safety and general refusal skills. As early as third grade, students start to learn about vaping, which Tobias said is strategic because it comes before many are exposed to it among their peers when they reach fifth and sixth grade.

Grant funding, this year at about $56,000, has allowed them to look at an umbrella of initiatives such as: developing lesson plans; sending school system employees to educational conferences; funding educational billboards and parent PSAs; trainings for coaches about sports injuries and pain medication; sending more students to the county health expo; and purchasing Naloxone kits for school nurses to distribute to staff members trained in their use.

A new video project called “Dear Future Me” was started last year with students at Francis Scott Key High School and is expanding out across all county high schools this year. The goal of the video is positive social norming, or shedding light on “more people out there doing the right thing rather than the wrong thing.”

Students share future goals and then examine the consequences that drugs could have on their prospects.

“It’s mind blowing what the students put together," Tobias said of the project at FSK.

She highlighted the partnerships between different agencies like the Carroll County Health Department, the Carroll County State’s Attorney’s Office, and CCPS to combat drug abuse and the opioid crisis.

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“It’s really going to take a lot to dig out of this, and it starts with awareness of our students,” Tobias said.

East Middle update

The joint meeting began with a discussion bringing the commissioners up to speed on the future replacement project for East Middle School.

One of the latest developments is the formation of the local committee that will work with architects and planners to help chart the course of the project. CCPS is on track to meet all deadlines required by the state and doesn’t anticipate any problems receiving state funding, Lockard said.

More discussion of school facilities will come with the introduction of a draft of the Capital Improvement Program at the school board’s Sept. 11 public meeting. Additions, renovations and construction projects to school facilities are covered under the capital budget funded by the county and the state.

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