Carroll County Schools Superintendent Steve Guthrie said he will present options for cost savings, including school closures, as the county faces declining student enrollment and continuing costs to maintain and improve facilities.
"I would never attempt to close schools without public input," Guthrie said. "However, I cannot receive public input without presenting different scenarios. I ask that the public not make the leap to schools closures from what will be discussed at the next board meeting."
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.
Guthrie emphasized that the options he intends to present next week contain “options,” rather than “recommendations” for school facilities.
Gurthrie’s comments come amid speculation that Liberty High School in Eldersburg, a top-ranked school nationally, is in danger of closing.
Carroll County Commissioner Richard Rothschild, who said he believes closing facilities is the fiscally responsible thing to do, said that the commissioners are not aware of any schools that have been identified for closure.
"In my own personal opinion, I believe high schools are less likely to be closed and I believe that newer schools are less likely to be closed," Rothschild said.
At this point, Guthrie said, “no school in Carroll County is scheduled to close."
“However, we are facing a critical funding issue with both our operating and capital budgets," Guthrie wrote in an email to Patch. "As a result, I was asked to consider school closures as a way to reduce operating and capital costs of the school system."
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Those critical funding issues comes as the school system faces increasing costs in maintaining schools, programs and staff, he said.
In April, Guthrie proposed cutting 46 staff positions by attrition, which included 15 full-time teachers, to manage costs.
If the county commissioners provide the minimal funding required by law (known as Maintenance of Effort or MOE) while the student population continues to decline, Guthrie said he projects that the school system will have to reduce spending by another $25 million over the next five years with the same number of schools.
"This means significant staff reductions, elimination of some instructional programs, and the inability to improve existing programs," Guthrie said.
Guthrie said that the school system operating budget increases every year to pay for inflationary increases to fixed and variable costs including health insurances, property and other insurances, utilities, gas and fuel to name a few.
Additionally, he said that the current budget identifies 12 schools that need total roof replacements and 9 schools that have inefficient heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems that need to be replaced.
The school system is also in need of a new or modernized Career and Technology Center, Guthrie said, not to mention paving needs around schools, technology infrastructure expansion and system-wide repairs.
Guthrie said members of the Carroll County Board of Commissioners directed him last spring when he requested a revenue increase to "examine reducing our facilities as a way to ease operating and capital expenses while reducing the excess facility capacities across our school system."
Rothschild told Patch that decommissioning schools will actually improve the quality of education in Carroll County.
"By right-sizing the infrastructure of the school system, we can reduce overhead expenses and free up money that can be redirected back into the classroom, into classrooms that are actually occupied," Rothschild said.
Guthrie said he agreed to study the school system's facility use to determine how best to proceed to ensure that buildings are being used in the most efficient way.
Guthrie also said that he would not proceed without involving the public.
Guthrie said the "likelihood of school closure depends largely on community input."
Guthrie said that advocates for no school closures would have to also advocate for increased funding from the county.
"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 said.
Rothschild acknowledged that some families would likely be inconvenienced by redistricting but he said "right-sizing" the school system is necessary.
"I believe as responsible fiscal managers we have a responsibility to engage in right-sizing the school system," Rothschild said. "Make no mistake I understand that may create inconveniences for some families who might be redistricted but I also firmly believe that right-sizing the system will free up money that can be used to improve the quality of education."
Click here to see an agenda and meeting materials for the Oct. 10 meeting.
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