xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

College tuition waiver considered for children of county staff, teachers

The Carroll County Board of Commissioners and county schools officials are considering a proposal to provide free tuition to Carroll Community College to the children of county employees and teachers.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, introduced the proposal at a June 10 joint meeting between the commissioners and the school board as a way to attract and retain teachers in Carroll. Frazier again brought up the idea at the community college's board of trustees meeting on June 17.

Advertisement

"My idea is anyone who works for Carroll County should be able to send their kids to Carroll Community College for free. If we can start with teachers, we could eventually offer free tuition to county employees," said Frazier, an ex-officio member of the community college board.

As of now, the proposal doesn't include free tuition for employees or spouses — just children, Frazier said.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said he believes free tuition would be a good incentive for any school system employee.

"We had only discussed general concepts," Guthrie said.

Guthrie said he is unsure whether the incentive would fall under the system's bargaining agreement with the county teachers union, the Carroll County Education Association. That will depend upon which agency sets parameters for the benefit, he said.

Ted Payne and Teresa McCulloh of the Carroll County Education Association could not be reached for comment on this article.

Advertisement

Barbara Hull, a cafeteria manager for East Middle School, whose daughter will be attending Carroll Community College, said free tuition would be helpful, especially because she doesn't receive health benefits.

"It would be awesome if we received free tuition," Hull said. "I would be jumping on that."

The Carroll public school system is the only one in Maryland whose teachers are five steps behind experience in teacher salary placement, said Jon O'Neal, assistant superintendent of administration, in an email on June 11. Minimum salaries for teachers holding bachelor's degrees are $40,400 in Carroll, the lowest of any jurisdiction in the state, according to 2013-14 professional salary schedules from the Maryland State Department of Education.

Devon Rothschild, a member of the Board of Education who spoke on her own behalf, not for the board, expressed support for the proposal.

"I think anything we can do to support our teachers is a good thing," Rothschild said. "It's going to be a while before we get their compensation to where it needs to be."

Board of Education President James Doolan — who, like Rothschild, made it clear he was speaking on his own behalf — said he would rather see county dollars go toward teacher compensation than providing free tuition for teachers and other employees.

Doolan said his priority is "always giving the teachers a raise." The county needs to provide competitive salaries to attract and retain teachers, he said.

"Counties that are poorer than us have made up those steps," Doolan said. "To do it in lieu of [compensation] — no, absolutely not — we need to improve salaries for our teachers."

James Ball, president of Carroll Community College, agreed that it would be a good incentive for public school teachers and county employees.

"I think it would be something that would be a nice benefit for county employees and school system employees. I know that the salaries of teachers in Carroll County are significantly below other counties in the state — this would be a nice benefit I would think for those individuals who need tuition for their children, and we certainly welcome those students to our school," Ball said.

Free tuition has been offered to the college's employees since the school opened, Ball said. Tuition is $124 per credit hour, though the cost ends up being almost $149 with additional fees. Students taking advantage of the program typically take 12 to 15 credits, and need permission to take more than 18 credits, Ball said.

Ball said the college has a policy in place for employees, requiring students to earn at least a C in each course they take to receive reimbursement for each course taken. He would recommend a similar policy to the county, he said.

Because student enrollment has been declining at the college by about 2 percent each year, Ball said he expects the proposal could actually help enrollment.

Most members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners have been in support of the initiative, though Commissioner Richard Rothschild, R-District 4, expressed opposition.

"I probably would not support giving preferential treatment to government employees. However, I would be inclined to support free or discounted tuition to our volunteer firemen and women in exchange for their volunteer services, in situations where open space is available in local college classrooms," the commissioner wrote in a text message.

Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said the county is currently working toward determining the number of employees who might benefit from the incentive and there is no time frame for when this survey will be completed.

"This is what [the commissioners] want to do for the county employees — not just the teachers but for anyone," Weaver said. "Other counties, such as Howard County, are already doing this."

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said the idea is still in an early stage, and a number of steps still need to be taken to determine if this is a worthwhile incentive.

"At the end of the day, to do this it would have to benefit enough people to make it meaningful," he said. "It can't be too much money to take away from something else, and if this doesn't get us all the way [to meeting the school system's funding and recruitment needs] this would just be a piece of the puzzle. There are still a number of steps, but I truly believe this is a worthwhile idea."

Howard said he is unsure of the exact mechanism for determining how many students could benefit from this. There are several difficulties in reaching that determination, such as whether an employee lives out of county, he said.

"We can say we have X-number of teachers but that doesn't begin to determine how many [students] that would affect," Howard said.

Guthrie estimated the school system employs about 2,200 teachers. The school system employs a total of 3,539 workers, according to information provided by CCPS. The county employed 908 people as of June 1, including employees for the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, the State's Attorney's Office, Carroll County Sheriff's Office, Carroll Soil Conservation District and Circuit Court for Carroll County, according to information provided by Kimberly Frock, administrator for the county Office of Human Resources.

Weaver said one means of paying for the cost of tuition would be to allocate payments over time rather than taking it "out of pocket" all at once.

Howard, while agreeing with Weaver that is one possibility, said there are too many unknowns to establish a reasonable estimate of cost and time to implement the incentive.

Advertisement

"[The board's support] is a willingness to find out more about it and not to do something until we find out more about this," Howard said. "The heavens aren't going to open up with money to pay for what [CCPS] thinks their needs are. At the same time I'm not comfortable with how things are. We are going to have to get creative to get this done."

Advertisement

410-857-7862

twitter.com/LaurenLoricchio

410-857-3315

twitter.com/Wsentor

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement