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Leatherwood: Appropriate, not 'full,' funding for schools needed

Recently, I found myself in an online discussion with a gentleman who insisted the Board of County Commissioners are to blame for low teacher salaries since they have not "fully funded" education. I double checked my information and reported back that the money budgeted for the Board of Education had been what Superintendent Stephen Guthrie had requested. I was then told that Guthrie does not ask for enough because he knows the commissioners will not approve his request. This got me thinking about these two words: fully funded.

Fully: Completely, totally, without exception, entirely.

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Funded: Paid for, supported financially, endowed, underwritten.

Can we all just agree that we need to stop saying "fully funded" when talking about the Board of Education budget? Gone are the days when anyone can reasonably think that we can completely, totally, without exception, entirely pay for, support, endow, and underwrite our schools. So what term can we use? Reasonably funded? Generously funded? Moderately funded? Adequately funded? None of these adverbs carry the punch (nor the fun alliteration) of "fully funded", but they need to be considered.

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Several weeks ago, school board president Jim Doolan praised the Howard County model in which 60 percent of the county budget is allocated to the Board of Education. Literally, within 24 hours of hearing his statement, I read a news story reporting that the citizens of Howard were demanding more money be spent on schools. Mr. Doolan has recently withdrawn his re-election bid, but did so claiming the commissioners do not "truly value public education."

Currently, it seems the biggest sticking point is teacher salaries. Folks are clamoring for the commissioners to fix the teacher salary issue, but it is Superintendent Guthrie and the school board that allocate the funds. Admittedly, the recent raises, increases, bonuses and COLAs have been moderate, but life has been challenging for many in the private sector as well. Of course, we can all pull out that anecdote of a friend or neighbor who is somehow making a generous salary with annual increases but, in recent years, many private sector jobs have reflected stagnant wages, increased employee health care contributions and less generous benefit packages. Simply stated, times are tough all over.

We have a Board of Commissioners that, theoretically, should be the most "teacher friendly" we have ever had. To the best of my knowledge, all the Commissioners have children who are currently attending or have attended Carroll County Public Schools; Commissioner Dennis Frazier is currently a teacher; Commissioner Richard Weaver is a retired teacher, and Commissioner Stephen Wantz is the father of a teacher. If it was up to the Board of Commissioners to give teachers raises, I think they would get raises. It doesn't make sense to me that the unions have decided that now is the time to dig in their heels and blame the commissioners.

My head is swimming with all the statistics that are tossed out by both sides when talking about the school budget and teacher salaries. It reminds me of that old comical truism, "90 percent of people will believe your argument if you throw in a percentage quote." Percentages, rankings, comparisons — you can find Carroll County at the top of some and the bottom of others. There is always more information right under the surface that is often glossed over in the interest of making a point.

While there are formulas, one-time funding and grants that all muddy the waters, the majority of the BOE funding that comes from the State of Maryland is a per-pupil amount. As the student population drops, the state funding drops. Enrollment projections continue to show declining student numbers and that, more than likely, means a declining state contribution.

Carroll County is in the "middle of the pack" when looking at per-pupil spending but much lower on the charts that compare teacher salaries. This seems to indicate the problem is our overhead. While I question the schools selected, there is no question that closures — and, frankly, more than three — need to occur. The money is going somewhere, but it does not appear to be teachers' salaries.

I firmly believe that the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education are both enthusiastically interested in the health and success of our schools, our students, and our teachers. There are smart people in offices on Center Street and on Court Street. They need to put their heads together, give up the dramatic rhetoric, and come up with a solution. We do not need to increase taxes to adequately, appropriately and reasonably fund education.

Karen Leatherwood writes from Eldersburg. Reach her at leatherwoodkarenm@gmail.com.

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