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Some of the most important decisions the Board of County Commissioners have to make each year at budget time revolve around education funding. Last year the Carroll County Board of Education voted to adopt a budget that included significant money for salary negotiations and 29 new positions. At the time, Superintendent Steve Lockard said it was time to not only give meaningful raises to Carroll County Public Schools employees, but to also begin hiring more, given that the system had lost some 375 employees over the previous decade.

As the budget season played out, the teachers got solid raises but none of the 29 positions were funded. That’s how it works. Each year, both sides try to prioritize between biggest needs and wants.

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Along those lines, the school system is asking the community for help regarding what should be its priorities in fiscal year 2021. They are soliciting feedback online and going out to different areas of Carroll to talk directly to stakeholders. This is significant because the biggest complaint about the school system as difficult decisions were made over the past five years or so has been its failure to seek input from parents and others in the community invested in education.

So officials from CCPS headed out to Francis Scott Key High School on Monday in impressive numbers. Lockard and several members of central office staff led the discussion. The members of the Carroll County Board of Education attended as did the school’s principal. Monday’s meeting began with a primer on the CCPS budget process, breaking down where funding comes from, where the budget goes, and what the timeline is for the next financial year approaching approval of the budget.

Then it was time to talk about priorities, given that the superintendent weighs options and community feedback and works on prioritizing budget initiatives from September through December. CCPS staff asked attendees to ponder a list of 12 items CCPS is considering, based on its stratetic plan, for its upcoming FY21 budget request and rank them in order of importance. There was also a separate section for write-in suggestions.

The proposed priorities citizens were asked to rank touched on many hot-button issues that have been discussed in regards to school safety, health and behavior issues and statewide math results on standardized tests. (They list: employee compensation, four special education resource teachers, 11 academic specialists in elementary math, seven academic specialists in middle school math, three school psychologists, two intervention specialists, two on-site technicians, an additional coordinator in the area of school security, a substance abuse prevention teacher specialist, a coordinator of health services, investment in the creation of a virtual learning program; and expansion of the pre-kindergarten program.)

All sounds good, right? Except that the town hall-style meeting was, to put it mildly, sparsely attended. By one estimate, school officials outnumbered spectators by as many as 5 to 1. After the meeting, Lockard said he would love to see more people attend and provide input, but he felt that the discussion had been strong. “There are things that compete so you can’t do them all,” he said. “It’s important to get feedback from our community as we prioritize for the next few years.”

It is important. It’s easy to complain after the fact, more difficult to be a part of the process. So we urge the community to provide the feedback being asked for, either online or by attending one of the remaining sessions.

The next budget town hall will be held on Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. at the media center of Westminster High School. Another will be held at South Carroll High School at 7 p.m. on Dec. 9. Feedback on budget priorities can also be sent to the Office of Community and Media Relations at publicinfo@carrollk12.org.

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