We disagree that wanting to “Fully Fund Education” is a political term. The school system and board of education are not political bodies. Their mission is to educate the children of Carroll County.
As we heard at the board budget work session on February 3rd, for years the board of education has not asked for the funding they need, only for the funding they think they can get. And that has allowed the county commissioners to give give tax cuts off the backs of our children, our teachers and our communities. It must end NOW.
At the Chamber of Commerce’s annual budget meeting on February 18, 2016, Director of Management and Budget Ted Zaleski said that every penny of property tax translates to approximately $2 million in revenue. The property tax rate was cut three cents, so the loss is $6 million each year that could have helped our schools.
Historically, the county has increased funds to the public schools about 4.5% each year. While we recognize that rapidly rising enrollments and new schools opening nearly every year required this level of investment, we don’t agree that declining enrollments calls for negative increases. Most of the costs are not as variable as enrollment.
Declining enrollment is not the school system’s fault. Children are not leaving the system to go to private, parochial or home schooling. All those are declining too. Private and parochial enrollment is falling at four times the rate of public school enrollment. Enrollment is declining because the population of Carroll County is aging. The county birth rate has fallen from about 1,900 to 1,400. That’s 500 fewer children coming into school each year. And it shows no signs of changing.
We have previously explained why teachers cannot be cut in the same proportion as the declining enrollments. At least one commissioner would have us believe that with a decline of 400 students in one year, we should be able to cut 20 teachers (using a 20:1 ratio to make it simple). But it is not that easy. Those 400 students are spread over 40 schools and 13 grades. So, each school losing ten students, perhaps two or three students per grade.
The percentage of the county budget going to the public schools has dropped dramatically over the past few years and is projected to continue dropping for the entire projection period. We realize there are new funding requirements the county must cover, such as stormwater remediation and teacher pensions, but these dramatic and continuing declines do not show a county that values education as its top priority.
And finally, we hear over and over that the schools must be run like a business. The simple reality is education cannot be run like a business. Certainly, some parts can and should, like finance, human resources, purchasing and information technology. But the service delivery requires a role more like a church, opening its doors to serve everyone who shows up.
And what is probably the biggest reason a school system cannot be run like a business? A business can close its doors if it doesn’t bring in enough money. A school system must ensure it can continue serving everyone, even if the service isn’t to its historical standards.
We must demand our board of education present a budget request that includes yearly improvements to the system. And we must demand that our commissioners find a way to fund it. The budget meetings are starting soon. We must be engaged and informed. It’s not too early to tell both boards what we expect — that our school system will receive the funds it needs to offer real raises to its employees and educational improvements to our children.
Here is the link to the spreadsheet we used to create the graphs above. Historical data was provided by the Carroll County Office of Management and Budget. We entered the projections based on the FY 16 Adopted Operating Plan.