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CCPS funding the main concern at budget public hearing

Unsurprisingly, the majority of comments during the county's fiscal year 2016 public hearing Thursday night centered on the funding shortfall for the Carroll County Public Schools system.

The two main issues brought up were the possibility of CCPS losing out on about $1.2 million in optional state education funding and the potential loss of 56 teacher positions and ninth-grade sports programs to account for the shortfall.

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In the proposed FY16 budget, the county is contributing $169.5 million, but the Board of Education has requested $175.8 million.

Many speakers requested the commissioners formally urge Gov. Larry Hogan to allocate optional Geographic Cost of Education Index funding to the individual school systems throughout the state and if Hogan refuses to do so, they said the commissioners should commit to funding the shortfall.

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Others said school funding needs to increase to provide raises to CCPS teachers and to hire more custodians, whose number has steadily declined since the economic downturn in 2008.

One speaker said the county's funding has not kept pace with inflation, and the county's average salary pales in comparison to surrounding jurisdictions. In order to prevent an exodus of teachers to other counties, the commissioners need to make a greater monetary commitment to CCPS, the speaker said.

Jim Doolan, president of the Board of Education, said one solution to prevent funding shortfalls in the future is developing a five-year funding plan with the commissioners, which the two boards discussed on Tuesday.

"Education needs to be the top priority," Doolan said. "It used to be and needs to be again."

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Another speaker also supported the development of a five-year plan. The speaker also said the tax cuts made by the previous board, while successful at saving residents a small amount of money, eliminated a crucial portion of recurring revenue that could've been used to bridge some of the funding cap. She even presented a check to the commissioners for the money she had saved because of these tax cuts and implored those watching the hearing to do the same.

Several speakers spoke against an increase in CCPS funding. More than one said they would not support a tax hike to increase education spending, an option suggested by Commissioner Dennis Frazier earlier in the budget process, and several said the commissioners should even cut spending to account for a declining student population and what they considered sub-par teachers.

Education funding wasn't the only issue brought up, with several speakers addressing funding needs of the Community Media Center.

Marion Ware, executive director of the center, requested the commissioners allocate $500,000 for a technological upgrade. She had originally requested $1 million in FY16 for this purpose.

"The Community Media Center must begin now to upgrade analog equipment [to High Definition] to continue to serve and even to function," Ware said. "We do not believe the long-overdue franchise agreement will address these issues."

The county's Cable Regulatory Commission is negotiating with Comcast to finalize a new agreement, which is five years overdue.

The upgrade would not only benefit Carroll residents who watch the center's coverage of county and local government meetings and events, but it would also better prepare and serve students at the Career and Tech Center, another speaker said.

The Board of Commissioners will now begin a series of budget work sessions to address the issues brought up at the hearing and is set to vote on the budget May 26. Ted Zaleski, director of the Department of Management and Budget, said during a meeting earlier Thursday that the commissioners could vote on the budget sooner than that if they feel all the budget sessions are not necessary.

Fiscal year 2016 begins July 1.

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