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Guthrie: Cut school positions to meet budget shortfall

Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie suggested the reduction of 56 positions to meet a $3.5 million shortfall in a presentation to the Board of Education on Wednesday night after the announcement of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners' fiscal year 2016 operating budget proposal.

The county budget released Tuesday allocated $168.8 million in funding for Carroll public schools, though the county requested $173 million.

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Guthrie proposed that 50 positions not be replaced should 75 teachers retire as a result of a retirement incentive plan, which would provide an operating reduction of slightly more than $3 million. He also suggested cutting six of nine positions in the High School Student Services program by combining dropout prevention specialists and crisis intervention counselors into one position.

His third proposal was to eliminate ninth-grade athletics to strengthen junior varsity programs, a move that would save the school system $20,000, he said.

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The Carroll County Commissioners' budget released Tuesday indicated it would provide $168.8 million, but that was the result of an error calculating a reallocation of school capital funding to the CCPS operating budget.

Ted Zaleski, director of management and budgets for Carroll County, said the commissioners had looked at the "what if" increasing the amount of Carroll's income taxes devoted to education, but then neglected to pull that off the table before voting to approve the $169.5 million budget.

"If that revenue number changes by the next budget meeting on May 13, then we will address it at that time," Guthrie said before his presentation to the board.

The commissioners have called an emergency budget session for Thursday, at which they will discuss the miscalculation and ways to restore the $700,000 to Carroll public schools.

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The Board of Education initially requested $173.5 million from the Board of Commissioners. On March 21, the school board asked the commissioners for an additional $2.3 million to make up for a loss in state aid, bringing the total request to $175.8 million. When the Legislature restored state funding, the school board reduced its funding request to $173 million, said Christopher Hartlove, chief financial officer for the school system.

The Maintenance of Effort requirement, which requires local jurisdictions to fund a certain amount of the school system's budget, is $159 million, according to information provided by Hartlove. County staff recommended the commissioners provide $162 million in funding for Carroll public schools.

Board of Education member Devon Rothschild told Commissioner Richard Weaver, R-District 2, secretary for the Board of Commissioners, she was grateful that they were able to get over the $162 million initially recommended by staff.

"But I am really concerned about the lack of a realistic long-term plan for how we're going to get to where we need to be — we're using millions of dollars in one-time funds this year to get there. We're borrowing money from here, we're diverting money from our capital projects," Rothschild said.

Guthrie's proposal included a $132.6 million request from the state, a 1.52 percent decrease from last year's request, reflecting an expectation of less funding.

Gov. Larry Hogan's budget cut $4.3 million to Carroll public schools, with $1.2 million currently being 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.

If funded fully, the school system would have received $2.4 million in GCEI funding. Hogan can release the funding, although he has not yet done so.

"Mr. Guthrie just came up with a plan — I'd like to know what the commissioners' plan is if the governor doesn't meet the GCEI, because that is additional cuts that we will be looking at," said Kelli Nelson, of Eldersburg, who attended the meeting.

Guthrie, who serves as president of the Public Schools Superintendents' Association of Maryland, said he has been involved "above and behind the scenes," writing letters and meeting with agencies, in an effort to persuade Hogan to release the money.

"At this point, I'm just going to assume that we're going to get it, and if we don't I will have to make changes in May," Guthrie said.

Other state cuts were the result of declining enrollment in Carroll public schools because education funding is tied to student enrollment. According to CCPS enrollment projections, enrollment numbers have been declining since the 2004-05 academic year. The numbers are projected to continue to fall until the 2019-20 school year.

Board of Education members urged the commissioners to work with them on a long-term budget plan so that they can focus on moving the school system forward.

"I believe we're underserving special education, gifted and talented students and our teachers by not providing enough professional support for them to do their jobs," Guthrie said.

410-857-7862

twitter.com/LaurenLoricchio

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