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Schools chief calling for united front to fix state funding shortfall

Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie is pushing for a "united front" between the school board, county commissioners and Carroll legislators during the upcoming Maryland General Assembly session as the school system hopes to pull out of a multiyear shortfall in state funding.

According to Guthrie, the school system will be asking the county and state for additional funding to address deficiencies, including unfunded state mandates and inflationary increases such as insurance and diesel fuel.

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State funding for the Carroll County Public Schools system has declined in recent years as enrollment has declined. The state funds school systems based on a formula, which takes into account the school's enrollment and wealth.

Often, the county's delegation can secure additional funding through legislation or the governor can decide to hold the county harmless, which means it will not penalize it for a factor such as declining enrollment.

"We had a tough legislative session; last year we didn't get any additional funding," Guthrie said during a meeting last month with the Carroll delegation and the Carroll County Board of Education. "I appreciate any help from the delegation to stop the bleeding from state funding and to stay whole."

Many in the Carroll County delegation believe the election of a Republican to the governor's mansion will bring more consideration in funding for the primarily red county. Governor-elect Larry Hogan took more than 80 percent of the vote in Carroll.

"Hogan will look at many of the needs of the rural counties and is placing a higher priority on western Maryland, Eastern Shore and southern Maryland than [current Gov. Martin] O'Malley did," said Sen. Joe Getty, R-District 5.

"But our trigger point is still the House of Delegates."

There was support for additional education funding for Carroll County in the state senate last session, Getty said, which he expects to be maintained this year. Getty said the House of Delegates "hit a brick wall" trying to obtain additional funding during the last several sessions.

Del. Susan Krebs, R-District 5, said there are several misconceptions in the legislature's role to request additional funds from the state to fund education.

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The Thornton Formula, which was implemented in 2002, is designed to ensure poorer counties receive larger per-pupil state funding than wealthier counties.

"There's little appetite in Annapolis to change the formula," she said.

According to Krebs, a work group was established to look at different parts of the Thornton Formula, but they are not scheduled to report back for at least a year.

She said she is optimistic that Hogan will be more amenable to holding the county harmless while the legislature is waiting on a report from the work session.

Del. Justin Ready, R-District 5, said it will be important for the delegation to get the state to understand Carroll's unique situation.

"We don't have a high industrial tax base even though we see more wealth than other counties," Ready said. "The goal was — and still is — to do whatever we can to get some additional help for the school system, but that will depend on the budget process."

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While Ready will seek funding from the state level, he said the delegation may also try to pass a bill to allow the Carroll County Board of Commissioners the ability to increase spending per pupil and not count toward maintenance of effort.

Delegate-elect Haven Shoemaker, who is currently on the Carroll County Board of Commissioners, said he believes Carroll County has "been the victim of state shortfalls for a number of years and we've been singled out relative to the other 23 counties."

Reach staff writer Krishana Davis at 410-857-7862 or krishana.davis@carrollcountytimes.com.

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