Editorial: Wishing Guthrie the best as bumpy road as Carroll schools superintendent ends

Editorial: Wishing Guthrie the best as bumpy road as Carroll schools superintendent ends
Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie, pictured here in his Westminster office June 7, is retiring from his position after eight years at the helm of Carroll's school system. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

By this time next week, Stephen Guthrie’s time as Carroll County Public Schools’ superintendent will be over and Steven Lockard will take over as the school system’s top official. To say it’s been a bumpy road for Guthrie would be an understatement.

Guthrie, who began working as a teacher in Carroll County in 1982 and worked his way through the ranks, took the reins from the late Charles Ecker as superintendent in 2010. Ultimately, for many people, he will be remembered as the superintendent who oversaw the closure of three schools — one relatively new and the other two steeped in history.


It’s an unfortunate legacy for someone who may have just been the right person at the wrong time.

The recession began to take hold a few years earlier, but the full effects of it were reaching their peak in Carroll in 2010 when Guthrie was chosen for the superintendent post.

Unemployment reached 6.8 percent in Carroll, the highest percentage of any year since 1990 to present, according to the Maryland State Archives data.

Enrollments were on a downward trend that would pick up steam, with CCPS losing nearly 1,400 kids during Guthrie’s first four years and roughly 2,000 since 2010. Heavily weighted in the state’s existing funding formula for schools, those losses equated to less funding for local schools from the state to the tune of almost $40 million cumulative.

Home values and assessments were declining, reducing revenue collected by the county used to fund education, among other services. And the incoming Board of County Commissioners — the first five-member board elected by district — reduced property tax rates in its first two budgets, further reducing the pool for school funding.

Needless to say, there was much uncertainty about the economy nationally and in Carroll County. For a few years, the school system balanced revenue shortfalls on the backs of its teachers, eschewing negotiated step increases and cutting positions through attrition to avoid painful cuts to programs like Outdoor School. Discussions on achieving efficiencies through closing schools began and picked up steam quickly, ultimately leading to Guthrie’s recommendation to the school board in late 2015 to close Charles Carroll Elementary, New Windsor Middle and North Carroll High schools.

Many still haven’t forgiven him for that decision and never will. The reality is, if not Guthrie, whoever was in the position at the time would have been vilified. If not those schools, it would be other parents and students upset with the closures in their communities.

Guthrie was dealt a difficult hand that would’ve been challenging for anyone. He has handled the community backlash with grace in the three years since those decisions were made and continued to move Carroll County Public Schools forward, as it remains one of the best school systems in Maryland.

Now, as the torch is passed to Lockard, he inherits a system that is still facing significant operating revenue shortfalls, looming capital projects, potential state mandates as a result of the Kirwan Commission’s recommendations, the need for long overdue comprehensive redistricting and the likelihood of additional closures of schools. He’ll need just as thick skin as Guthrie had as he navigates those waters.

When Lockard’s term begins July 1, Guthrie will start in a new role as the superintendent of the Sussex Technical School District in Delaware. A state audit there has found evidence of widespread financial impropriety that benefited a local developer, according to the Wilmington, Del., News Journal, prompting staff at the school to call on members of its Board of Education to resign.

As we thank Guthrie for the past three-plus decades he’s dedicated to Carroll County Public Schools, we wish him the best in his new positions as he faces a number of new challenges.