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Editorial: Joint meeting of commissioners, school board, will reveal priorities

On Tuesday, the Carroll County Public Schools’ Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners will have their first joint meeting since the 2018 election, when five new members were chosen among the 10 seats on the two boards.

This is notable, because of the many clashes previous boards had over budgetary matters. At today’s meeting, we’ll get an idea of how the new iterations of these entities will work together, as they begin detailed discussions on new Superintendent Steven Lockard’s proposed budget — also his first, it should be noted.

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The meeting is scheduled from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the County Office Building, a day before the last BOE budget work session at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 6. The school board is slated to adopt its proposed fiscal year 2020 operating budget on Feb. 13 and turn it over to the county commissioners for approval.

The school board plans to ask the county for $201.3 million this year, approximately 60 percent of the superintendent’s total proposed budget of nearly $335 million, with the rest coming from state and federal funding sources.

Lockard’s proposed budget is aimed toward raises and employee compensation, and also includes 29 new positions — 11 elementary school academic specialists, seven middle school academic specialists, four special education resource teachers, three school psychiatrists, two intervention specialists and two on-site technicians.

We haven’t heard much from the commissioners in regard to local education funding since the campaign, with the exception of Commissioner President Stephen Wantz saying fair compensation for teachers was at the top of his list when prioritizing education during his State of the County speech.

“We are proud to provide a [majority of our total budget] to education, and our expectation is the school system will use our funds for the best, including paying our boots-on-the-ground educators,” he said back on Jan. 8.

Teachers have also made clear that improving salaries for educators is a top priority, turning out en masse and clad in red to the most recent Board of Education meetings to advocate for raises. Lockard and other members of the BOE have agreed, calling employee compensation the top priority in the budget.

What we’ll likely learn at today’s meeting is how much the county is willing to put toward compensation, and beyond that, whether any commissioners or school board members are willing to put their neck out and advocate for additional funding to add positions Lockard is requesting in this coming year to, in his words, address “some of the changing needs of our students.”

There will also likely be some discussions on the capital budget, particularly what is to become of East Middle School, and whether the BOE’s strategy there will be connected to a willingness for county commissioners to fund new positions. More than a few have made clear, rightly or wrongly, they don’t want to pay for additional positions if the Board of Education can’t figure out how to address costs for facilities.

The joint meeting likely won’t paint a completely clear picture of negotiations between the school board and county commissioners over the next few years, but will give the public its first bit of insight into the mindset of new members and what their real priorities are going forward.

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