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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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Sue Keller October 05, 2012 at 02:07 AM
I'd like to know why Outdoor School is such a sacred cow in Carroll County. If Outdoor School had been eliminated starting this year, the bus schedules would not have had to be re-structured and those jobs could have been saved. Instead, a handful of jobs are preserved at Hashawa, and teachers and school nurses are paid overtime to supervise Outdoor School. Parents who don't want to send their kids to Outdoor School are coerced into doing so. Kids who don't want to go, have to go so they can get the credit. Even the tragic and negligent death of a camper/student a few years ago couldn't shut down this outdated mandatory activity. Why any school district in this day and age would want to continue taking on the cost and the liability of overnight camping for all the sixth graders in the school system is unfathomable.
Buck Harmon October 05, 2012 at 02:35 AM
Shoemaker also championed the push to build Manchester Valley HS as well, making the claim that his district needed this school desperately. He actually boasted throughout his campaign of his intentions to push hard for this very large school that also came in way over budget....SPEAK TO IT SHOEMAKER !
JoeEldersburg October 05, 2012 at 03:04 AM
Bottom line Shoemaker & Howard support funding and improving schools, the others don't. The Tea Party anti-government agenda is all of their goal and not surprisingly the numbers locally are no more viable than they are nationally. Stripping away all development controls and abdicating government's responsibility for protecting our quality of life are not good conservatism; they are a recipe for disaster. The schools would have been fine had the school board and last board of Commissioners just had a spine. Building a $74 million HS we didn't need without state funding dug the hole. Rothschild, Frazier & Roush want to bury us in it.
Sue Keller October 05, 2012 at 11:15 AM
Is that Winters Mill HS or Manchester Valley HS? I've heard that both North Carroll HS and Manchester Valley HS are under capacity...
CS October 05, 2012 at 11:37 AM
North Carroll and Manchester Valley and only in the 50% range as far as capacity. Winters Mill is in the mid 90s so much closer to capacity. It makes sense to consolidate some of the schools in the northern part of county and redistrict the entire county. If LHS is under consideration it would be absolutely insane based on the numbers of all the high schools in the south Carroll area.
Commissioner R Rothschild October 05, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Newsjunkie- Your assumption that consolidating schools must lead to increased class sizes would only be true if there were no "receiving space" ; but there is. Properly programmed, consolidation will not increase class size. Also, in regard to your earlier criticisms, I will simply say this: Leadership begins with someone stepping forward to lead when a need arises. A trajectory leading us in the direction of 5500 empty seats is a compelling metric that warrants investigation, debate, and consideration. Would you prefer a county commissioner that learned of this substantial excess capacity and remained silent? I believe I would be abdicating my responsibilities to the people of Carroll County if I simply ignored this matter. Now, you and others have the opportunity to at least participate in the discussion. Right? -Commissioner Richard Rothschild
Buck Harmon October 05, 2012 at 07:58 PM
What is the reason that Manchester Valley was built Commissioner Rothschild...Shoemaker seems to evade the topic even though we all know that he follows these blogs...Can you justify his very poor actions..?
Commissioner R Rothschild October 05, 2012 at 09:40 PM
Kelli- The Mount airy Middle School process was well underway when I took office. Notwithstanding the fact it was my district, I met with parents at the Mount Airy Town Hall and suggested several alternatives that would have circumvented the need to build a new school. My actions were hardly those of a "politician". -Commissioner Richard Rothschild
Commissioner R Rothschild October 05, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Buck- The decision to fund the construction of Manchester High solely with county funds, and no state aid belonged to the prior Board of Commissioners, NOT Shoemaker (who was a mayor at the time). Regardless, the county was operating in an environment of "Real Estate Gone Wild", and apparently the prior board(s) got too bold in their decisions. Clearly, the construction of Manchester was a game changer. But it matters not. No one promises any of us a perfect situation. My job is to take the hand dealt to the taxpayers of this county, and make the best of it. - Commissioner Richard Rothschild
Buck Harmon October 05, 2012 at 10:01 PM
Thank You Richard, Spoken like a true politician...Shoemaker ran his campaign boasting of the dire need for the Manchester high School and both you and he seem to be in denial of the truth here. I do respect the fact that you continue to respond on these forums.....Shoemaker should have the same fortitude but seems to duck and run from the real issues that face Carroll....He did in FACT play a key role in the push for the over budget massive school... the paper trail remains...
Buck Harmon October 05, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Still waiting for Shoemaker to respond about why he put the push on, placing the blame solely on the previous Commissioners is merely a cop out....bad leadership..
Carrollmom October 05, 2012 at 11:36 PM
Outdoor school is an amazing experience for children. It is not something that should be cut, in my opinion. Kids do not have to go. If a parent opts out, there is no lost credit. The nurses there are amazing. My son with a life threatening illness attended there a short time ago and he had the best care I could have hoped for. My son learned so much about the world around him, his environment but mostly about himself. No place in the regular cuuiculum could have given him that. I would fight for the continuation of outdoor school if it leads to that.
Bonnie Grady October 06, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Rothschild says, "I believe I would be abdicating my responsibilities to the people of Carroll County..." Sorry, Commissioner. You were elected to serve District 4. How about sticking to that charge?
Voiceless Taxpayer October 06, 2012 at 02:05 AM
Mr. Rothschild is correct. He did try to derail the Mount Airy Middle School project. He tried his best, but just couldn't do it.
Bonnie Grady October 06, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Get that? Mt Airy parents, are you remembering that for the next election? He tried to STOP the much-needed new school. And now he wants to create a voucher program and close schools and fund remaining schools at the minimum allowed by law! This is the man YOU allowed to be elected! Remember well come 2014. This is not someone who wants to help your kids!
Voiceless Taxpayer October 06, 2012 at 12:42 PM
With the turmoil these commissioners have brought to our county, especially Mr. Rothschild, we must hope and pray that there is something left of our county by the time 2014 comes. Let's pray that our Board of Education can find a way to keep our school system strong despite commissioners who view our schools as a burden rather than an asset, and who are attempting to reroute public school funding to home schoolers and Christian schools through this ridiculous voucher program that is unfit for a county with one of the best school systems in the state and USA. Anything for the developers, but nothing for the kids -- Mr. Rothschild, here's your 2014 campaign slogan.
Arya Stark October 06, 2012 at 02:29 PM
I want to know what the alternative is to closing a school? Close a school or...? Will programs be cut? And again, WHY does money need to be cut from education when there's no need to cut it? Just to say you (the BOC) did? The education budget will naturally go down with the predicted decline in enrollment (less teachers needed, etc), so why all the fuss to cut even more money? I don't get it. If the quality of the schools goes down, less families will choose to live in Carroll.
Voiceless Taxpayer October 06, 2012 at 08:43 PM
These commissioners, especially Mr. Rothschild, are risking the future of our county. Since they seem to love the war analogy, "The Fighting 59th" has declared war on our cherished school system and quality of life! We must fight back, and better do it now, before we lose what matters, because once it's gone, it's gone.
Larry Staudmeister October 08, 2012 at 12:27 PM
I would ask Mr. Guthrie to make public all of the criteria by which he will determine the solution(s) he will recommend be taken, and how much of the budget is required to service fixed debt (e.g., contractual obligations and the like). Also, for planning purposes, I would remind Mr. Guthrie that "inefficient" is not the same as broke, and to that end, does his budget have a set-aside fund for capital asset replacement.
Mary Huston October 08, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I like the idea that the administrative office building in Westminster be vacated and rented out for other businesses to occupy the space and move the school administrators to some of the existing schools so they can be accessible to parents and students. It is necessary to be financially competent and closing a school here and there would eliminate wasteful spending. Maybe Liberty High can be rented out to Carroll Community College and the school could offer a satellite campus for the South Carroll community. It could serve a useful purpose and if the population increases down the road, than Liberty could reopen.
I. DeFeo October 08, 2012 at 01:20 PM
I would not want outdoor school to be cut. We complain that Carroll County has substandard things, but there are some things that the county does for kids that are amazing, including outdoor school which follows a science curriculum that's actually tied into Maryland and Carroll County. Also, I doubt those teachers and nurses are paid overtime. They were hired to cover particular shifts, so I would bet they are paid a regular salary and not overtime. We'd both have to check that fact before we spout off about it. As to the death of that student, it happened while the child and family were out at Hashawha (the center) on their own and not during or at Outdoor School. And it's not mandatory as Carrollmom stated. Most students love it, a few choose not to go, and a few come home during the week.
I. DeFeo October 08, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Superintendent Guthrie gave a good talk about 2 years ago about projected enrollments for the next 15 to 20 years. It's was really interesting, and I value that information he provided to us more than anything else because he based numbers on many criteria including birth rates, housing rentals and sales and a number of other factors. It's a shame more people didn't attend those talks. He gave them repeatedly at many venues - ask him to do it again and be sure to attend it. You get a much better understanding of our capacity and facilities from it. Considering all the talk going on right now, it would be really valuable in forming a more accurate opinion.
I. DeFeo October 08, 2012 at 01:30 PM
Attend the school board meetings and any forums that Guthrie participates in. He is good about offering information. I've attend them in the past, and he had a complete presentation and then took lots of questions afterwards - patiently and respectfully. If you want to influence things, go to those meetings and be sure to attend the commissioner meetings. I bet if there were packed rooms and lots of people participating as well as letter writing & emails, we could have more influence over the commissioners' votes.
Buck Harmon October 08, 2012 at 01:32 PM
Now that's creative thinking ! Maybe we only need 1 administrator for each district, and they could each have an office in their own district...in one of the schools. Why is there the need for such a top heavy administration...seems it's not really working well. Trim the top and all will benefit...there are some FAT salaries up there.
I. DeFeo October 08, 2012 at 01:33 PM
The idea about moving the adminstrative offices into an existing under capacity school is an interesting one. Not a bad suggestion. Then when enrollments increase again, it would be easier to move them than open another school not to mention much more cost effective.
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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