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Superintendent: ‘I Would Never ... Close Schools Without Public Input’

School Superintendent Steve Guthrie will present options for facility use and closures at the Oct. 10 board of education meeting. Public discussion will follow.

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."  

Do you think the school system should consider closing schools in order to reduce costs? Tell us in comments.

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. 

See Also:

  • Report: Carroll County a 'School District People Flock To'
  • Public Schools: 'Crossing our Fingers' on Budget

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John Culleton October 09, 2012 at 12:21 AM
The real estate market has bottomed out. Interest rates are still low. I predict a new wave of home building in Carroll, expedited by the pro-development policies sponsored by among others Commissioner Rothschild. And we will be back in the race to catch up. School population in Carroll is fed by new residents, not just current residents. The prediction of continuing decline in school population has no basis in reality. In 2013 and following there will be a race to build and buy in Carroll County to get in on low real estate prices and low interest rates. Closing schools means changing the path from elementary to middle and from middle to high school. Then when the population increases again the paths will have to be readjusted again. If taxes have to be raised so be it. Schools are the most important function of Carroll County government.
BC October 09, 2012 at 01:13 AM
John's comments are typical of him. There is no indication the housing market is going to rebound anytime soon. Maryland will get hard as the federal government starts cutting. His idea is to just leave things the way they are and the taxpayer can continue to pay for half full schools and watch the quality of our schools fall as teachers start looking for better opportunities in other counties. Carroll County teacher pay is at the bottom of the state but we have a 80+ million dollar school in Manchester that is half full and costing the school system millions in debt service and other costs that would be better served in paying our teachers a salary closer to Howard, Baltimore and Frederick Counties.
s j October 09, 2012 at 01:53 PM
Shrinking school population should mean smaller classes but my child who is in the third grade has thirty kids in her class.
Voiceless Taxpayer October 09, 2012 at 01:59 PM
Look at the official enrollment report on the CCPS web site and you can see where the low enrollment schools are. There is no factual basis for closing schools in the south county. http://www.carrollk12.org/admin/facilitiesmanagement/planning/enroll.asp
Trish October 09, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Sue Keller - in response to your comments re: Outdoor school .. are you CRAZY? Outdoor school is a wonderful learning experience that many counties in MD do not get. If YOU dont want YOUR child to attend, then by all means, keep YOUR child home! I went to outdoor school 31 years ago, as a 6th grader, and those memories and experiences are still forefront in my mind! The bus routes/schedule chamges should have changed a long time ago, regardless of the economic situation. It just makes the best business sense! If there is an opportunity to save $1,000,000.00, then for Gods sake, it should be done! Commisioners & BOE - PLEASE do not close Outdoor School, ever! The staff at Hashawha is amazing, the program is second to none, and the kids absolutely love it!

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