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Scanlan: Perennial budget fight between county, school system like something out of Twilight Zone

You're traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. A journey into a wondrous land of imagination. A land where school systems are adequately funded. Next stop, the Twilight Zone!

Imagine, if you will, a community that supposedly values public education, but somehow doesn’t want to pay for it. This school system consistently outperforms every other school system in the state, yet teachers’ salaries languish. There’s a signpost up ahead. You got it — Carroll County!

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Year in, year out we go through the same political exercise, like we are caught in a weird time loop. Every year, Carroll County Public Schools comes up with a strategic plan to improve our school system and better meet the growing needs of our students. They develop a budget that addresses the many needs of our community. And every year the budget gets trimmed because the county says they can’t afford to fully fund education. In all fairness to our county commissioners, they face enormous financial constraints. The balancing act they have to perform under the guidance of Ted Zaleski is formidable. Public safety, infrastructure, libraries, parks — the list could go on and on — are all important.

However, educating our children is vital to maintaining a healthy community. Through education we are ensuring future generations will continue contributing to thriving neighborhoods; therefore, fully funding the school system should be the starting point when creating a budget. The hard truth is that the services Carroll County residents depend upon cost money. Cutting programs can only go so far before performance is impacted. If a modest increase in taxes is required to enhance county revenues sufficiently to maintain our excellence, then so be it.

There is no doubt that CCPS would like to adequately compensate its employees. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of how much of the budget will get funded adversely impacts contract negotiations with the bargaining units. Even though intense haggling seems to be a perennial event, this year should have been different. Thanks to the General Assembly, the state of Maryland has increased its funding for education by $850 million, on a mostly bipartisan vote. Justin Ready, Katie Fry Hester, and Susan Krebs all supported this legislation. Inexplicably, Haven Shoemaker and April Rose voted against supporting public education. With friends like them in Annapolis, who needs enemies? Some of the new education funding is earmarked for teacher salaries. If CCPS increases salaries by 3%, the state will kick in another 1.5%, about $2.25 million. This should be a no-brainer.

Earlier this year Carroll County Public Schools created an ambitious, forward- looking strategic plan. Unfortunately it had to be whittled down to bare bones because of funding constraints. Wisely, the Board of Commissioners was able to fund the modest $1 million increase CCPS had finally asked for. However, this yearly battle for dollars has a negative impact on the entire school system. The morale of educators is about as low as I have seen it in my 31 years in Carroll County. The teachers, administrators, and support staff are on the front lines daily. Anyone who has spent time in a public school knows how hard these folks work. Instead of forcing cut upon cut, maybe it is time to change the paradigm. Let’s reward those who spend their days in a classroom by treating them like the professionals they are. We should support the work of our school system by going beyond what the superintendent has requested. Likewise, all educators should be compensated fairly. The good people of this community expect quality services, and Carroll County Public Schools is the best in the state of Maryland, hands down. Let’s keep it that way.

Submitted for your approval: Imagine a community where public schools are valued, where the education budget is fully funded. Imagine a school system that values its employees enough to pay them competitive salaries. We shouldn’t have to imagine these things; they should be reality. Let’s make sure our school system has the funds it needs to continue its legacy.

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