As Superintendent Stephen Guthrie prepares to offer cost-saving facility options to the Board of Education, Carroll County commissioners reiterate that there will be budget implications if schools aren't closed as a way to reduce overhead costs.
"We've done more than just encourage them to initiate the [facilities study] process, we've tied the outcome of the process to potential decisions we'll make here," Commissioner Doug Howard said in an open-session commissioners meeting last week. "We have said that if the decision is to not close schools then there will be budget implications for that."
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School Superintendent Stephen Guthrie told Patch that he will present cost-saving facilities options, including school closures, to the school board at the Oct. 10 board of education meeting.
Guthrie said that the options he intends to present next week contain “options,” rather than “recommendations” for school facilities. He said he wants to get community input on the options in the weeks following the Oct. 10 meeting.
"To maintain our current physical structure and our current educational programs, we either have to continue to reduce spending or receive annual increases in revenue from the county government," Guthrie previously told Patch.
Commissioner Richard Rothschild told Patch that closing schools is the "fiscally responsible thing to do."
"This is a difficult process and there may be winners and there may be losers," Rothschild said in an open commissioners meeting last week. "We should encourage them to go through this process with as much due diligence as they can with the expectation of trying to reduce overhead structures."
Rothschild told Patch that "citizens need to properly understand the nature of our excess capacity."
According to Rothschild, there are approximately 4,000 empty seats in Carroll County schools right now. He said that if nothing is done, that number will increase to 5,800 empty seats by 2018. Even if the population starts to increase after 2018, Rothschild said there will still be more empty seats in 2023 than there are today.
"So what this means is that if we were to decommission a couple of small schools and reduce their [school system] excess capacity by 1,500 seats, by 2023 we would still have 3,000 empty seats left," Rothschild said.
"We would still have 3,000 seats available for growth 10 years from now. Any assertion that closing schools today means reopening them in four or five years is patently wrong," Rothschild said.
Rothschild emphasized that although the board of commissioners encouraged the facilities study, he said the commissioners have had no say in the options that Guthrie will present.
"Nobody on this board of commissioners has gone to anyone in the board of education to say 'You need to close this school or that school,' nor has anyone said 'here are the criteria we demand in choosing what schools to close,'" Rothschild said. "We have left that completely at their discretion."
"Arguably, the only tool we (have) as a board of commissioners is the control over the budget, that's the only lever I think we have," Rothschild said. "We have linked moving forward with some kind of facility study with the budget because we have no other authority over the board of education."
The Oct. 10 board of education meeting will be held at 5 p.m. in the Charles I. Ecker Boardroom at the Board of Education offices, 125 North Court St. in Westminster.