Carroll commissioners, CCPS discuss long-term plan

Nearly a month after the Carroll County Board of Education adopted its fiscal year 2016 budget, cutting 56 positions to meet a $3.5 million shortfall, members from the board met Thursday with members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners to discuss establishing a five-year budget plan for the public school system.

Although nothing was decided at the meeting, it was the first of about half-a-dozen such sessions planned the end of the year, said Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5. The next meeting will likely be held July 9, although it has yet to be confirmed.


The two boards will compare their respective five-year plans during the next meeting. School Board Vice President Jennifer Seidel said she would like to hear more about the county's budget constraints in order to get to a realistic funding number that is "pleasing to both groups."

Although they met to lay out a fiscal plan, improving the quality of the school system was at the heart of the discussion between both boards.

Board of Education members in attendance, including James Doolan, board president, Seidel and CCPS Superintendent Stephen Guthrie, agreed increasing teacher salaries and keeping up with inflation are their top priorities.

Doolan said both boards working together and discussing a long-term plan for the school system is a "good start" to tackling these issues.

"We'd love to be able to get our people to where they were in comparison to other counties in the state," Doolan said. "We've clearly lost positions where we were with the other counties and it would be an ideal scenario to get back to [the] level of surrounding counties."

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. In Howard County, teachers with the same credentials begin at $45,971; in Baltimore County they start at $43,000; and in Anne Arundel County they begin at $44,991.

"We've got an issue with retention — part of it's morale and part of it is retention," Doolan said. Members from the Board of Education agreed: Low teacher salaries have led to both issues.

Commissioner Dennis Frazier, R-District 3, who was filling in for Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, said giving annual raises would certainly boost morale, but might ultimately be an empty gesture when compared to the increasing compensation in surrounding jurisdictions.

"If we give a 5 percent increase and so does Baltimore County, how would we compare to them?" Frazier said. "There's no point in giving raises if surrounding counties continue to do the same; the gap will only increase."

Because the Board of Education can't raise its own sources of revenue, its main sources of revenue are from county and state allocations.

The school system's funding requests for the coming years are projected to be: $176.3 million in 2017, $183.4 million in 2018, $198.3 million in 2019 and $206.2 million in 2020.

Meanwhile, the county's projected allocations for the school system in the coming years are projected to be:$170.9 million in 2017; $174.3 million in 2018; $176.6 million in 2019; $180.2 million in 2020.

Commissioner Doug Howard, R-District 5, said the county had difficulty allocating more than $169.5 million to the school system for the last budget cycle, a total that was more than the state-mandated Maintenance of Effort amount of $159 million.

"It's going to take being a little more creative," Howard said. "Nothing supplements catching up financially, but if it was as simple as us having the money and not giving it to you we would have solved that problem this last election."


Both boards discussed the importance of attracting young families to Carroll, as enrollment numbers have been declining and a trend expected to continue until 2023, according to CCPS enrollment projections for 2015-16 to 2024-25.

"You have to be able to give them a house where they can live; you have to give them things to do, places to go and good schools," Guthrie said.

Because enrollment is tied to state aid, the school system has been losing state funding, which is expected to continue to decrease as enrollment drops. Jurisdictions that gain students get more state aid, while those who lose students also lose funding.

"We are the only county that is continuing to drop in student enrollment as rapidly as we are," Guthrie said. Enrollment declines are tied directly to low birth rates in the county and a changing migration trend in Carroll caused by a slowdown in home construction.

Gov. Larry Hogan's budget cut $4.3 million to Carroll public schools this year, with $1.2 million withheld because of Hogan's decision to cut the state's Geographic Cost of Education Index by about half. Known as GCEI, the formula sends more money to state jurisdictions where the cost of providing education is more expensive.

School officials said they expect Hogan will release full GCEI funding next year. Still, they want to see the state adjust the state funding formula.

Howard said the only way to bridge the growing funding gap is to somehow ensure the state is involved in the discussion.

"We need to make sure the state participates with us," he said. "If we don't make that case now, where are we going to make ends meet?"

He also said the county should continue its efforts to develop Carroll's economic landscape. This would have the dual benefit of attracting more businesses and residents to the area, as well as increasing student enrollment, thus gaining access to more state funds, Howard said.

"If we engage the business community, a lot can be done when all of us are behind a common goal," he said.