By now most people are aware that our county is in the process of deciding how to close several schools in an effort to “right size” our school system. You have likely read multiple accounts of why this is necessary and how we got here. Some of the explanations are more accurate than others, however, the bottom line is that our county has not taken the right measures to grow and to thrive. As a result, we face an aging population, declining school enrollment, and insufficient county revenue to support our public services. For this coming year, Carroll County schools are projected to be underfunded by more than $11M. By 2021, we are projected to underfund our schools by nearly $53M. Obviously something needs to be done. While closing schools to save money might keep our school system alive today, if nothing is done we’ll face this problem year, after year, after year. We cannot close 5 schools each year to avoid having to adequately fund our schools.
There are many variables and factors that have an effect on our funding shortage (commonly referred to as the funding “gap”). In order to close the funding gap, we can provide our schools with more county funding, we can ask our schools to cut more costs, or we can do some combination of the two. The school closings are the latest in a long list of cuts that have been made to our school system. At this point, the BOE has publicly acknowledged that the cuts have hurt our educational programs (i.e. your children’s education), and we obviously can’t continue to close schools. So, it is time to start looking hard at ways to provide our schools with the additional funding that they need to maintain and improve our schools.
Who has the responsibility for funding for our public services, including our schools? The Board of County Commissioners. They are responsible for collecting and appropriating the County funds to each of our public services. Our BOE has no official say in what level of funding the schools receive – that is decided entirely by our Commissioners. While all of our Commissioners have publicly stated their desire to reduce costs by closing schools, most of them have completely avoided their actual responsibility – adequately funding our schools.
Instead of focusing on solving the funding shortage solely through school closures, our Commissioners should develop a comprehensive, balanced plan that addresses economic development, declining enrollments, loss of tax revenue, and additional BOE cost reduction efforts. Closing schools are an important, but small, part of the solution. As the highest elected officials in the county, our Commissioners are ultimately responsible for creating such a plan – so far they have neglected to do so.
What will closing 5 schools do to close the $53M funding shortage that we face? Although it does help, it doesn’t come anywhere close to solving the problem. The graph below shows the resulting funding gap if we only close schools, but do not provide the BOE with any additional funding.
Instead, we’d like to present a balanced approach that actually solves our school funding problem. The following “four-point plan” addresses the major factors contributing to our funding shortage, and nearly eliminates the $53M funding gap within five years.
- First, Implement BOE cost controls that make sense and don’t further undermine the quality of our school system.
- Second, Set a clear and precise growth rate target for the county that increases residential and commercial growth throughout the county
- Third, Increase funding to the BOE commensurate with and proportional to realized increases in county revenue (current BOE funding projections lag revenue growth)
- Fourth, Reverse the tax rate cuts that were made by the previous Board of Commissioners.
The results of this plan are shown below:
The best part of the plan? It requires only a 3% increase in taxes to reverse the cuts that were made in 2011 and 2012. Nowhere close to the 30% tax increase like some have led you to believe! In addition, there are other opportunities to further close the gap that aren’t included in the plan above, such as securing additional funding from the state. Finally, we will point out that this plan doesn’t just benefit the schools. The rest of the county public services will also benefit from their share of the increased revenue.
In summary, we urge you to join together and push for a comprehensive, balanced approach to solve this problem. Together we can take the necessary steps to help Carroll County thrive, not just survive!
Julie and Matt Kingsley